At approximately 12 noon (EST) today, the NHL will formally approve Seattle as the location of its 32nd and newest club. The Emerald City has put forth an understated but persuasive expansion bid, checking off all the relevant boxes that will convince at least 21 of 31 current team owners to place a new hockey team in the Pacific Northwest. The expansion fee is estimated at $650-million (U.S).
When Oak View Group-Seattle, the prospective ownership consortium, solicited season ticket deposits to gauge regional interest in NHL hockey, they received 10,000 deposits in 12 minutes.
At the beginning of autumn, Seattle City Council approved a $700-million (U.S.) renovation of Key Arena, the former home of the long-departed Seattle SuperSonics NBA team. Importantly, in an era when professional sports team owners often try to bilk governments out of as much public money as possible – like the vile, borderline white collar criminal Jeffrey Loria – to finance erection or renovation of stadiums and arenas, the project to substantially refurbish Key Arena (to be renamed Seattle Center Arena upon completion) is completely privately-funded. Leading the Seattle investment group are the Leiweke brothers, veteran executives of numerous pro sports teams and TV and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Further, the day before the current NHL season started, the NHL Executive Committee listened to a presentation from the Seattle expansion group, then unanimously recommended that the full membership of owners vote to accept Seattle’s bid in December.
That vote occurs today on Day 2 of the NHL Board of Governors Meeting.
What are the implications of admitting Seattle into the league?
In lockstep with today’s vote on accepting Seattle, the Executive Committee has also prepared a realignment proposal that must be voted on by the owners. Like Vegas two years ago, Seattle will assuredly enter the Pacific Division. That would mean one club from the nine-team Pacific would be transferred to the current seven-team Central Division. The logical and likely choice is Arizona Coyotes but how great is it, how absolutely great is it that a media member completely made up a rumor that Edmonton might be the Pacific candidate to be realigned?
Edmonton CEO Bob Nicholson fell for the bait and naturally protested, citing his club’s long-standing provincial rivalry with Calgary, and playoff “rivalries” with Anaheim and San Jose.
Playoff rivalries. Really?
A rivalry implies multiple playoff battles over several years.
Edmonton has qualified for the playoffs once in the last 12 seasons.
They do asinine transactions like Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. They continue to piss away the best years of Connor McDavid’s career.
Never mind realignment. The Oilers should be thankful they aren’t disbanded.
2020 or 2021? CBA + ARENA WILL DICTATE DATE
While the Seattle expansion group has long touted 2020-21 as their target season for entering the NHL, the readiness of the home venue and potential CBA negotiations are the two major factors that will heavily influence whether Seattle begins play as hoped in autumn 2020, or one year later in 2021-22.
The current 10-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires in September 2022. However, at any time before September 1, 2019, NHL owners have the right to terminate the CBA two years early, before the start of 2020-21. The owners are believed to be generally content with the current deal and are not expected to invoke the terminate clause. However, the NHLPA also has the right to declare an early termination by September 15, 2019.
Escrow against salary, denial of participation in the most recent Olympics and lesser leverage for restricted free agents are things eating away at players in recent years. The players will likely vote to re-open the CBA early and, judging by the historic inability of the NHL and NHLPA to hammer out agreements without losing a sizable part of, or an entire season, watch out for a strike that delays the start of the 2020-21 season until well into the winter.
Would the NHL and Seattle’s new franchise be willing to start operations in a strike-shortened season? If the schedule is reduced to the 48 game, non-inter-conference calendar we saw in 1995 and 2013, how will Seattle season ticket holders feel about not being able to see Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin until one year later?
Moreover, the readiness of Seattle Center Arena will be an equally important factor. This is no small sprucing-up of an arena. The inside is being completely structurally overhauled. No one knows if it can be done in two years. The completion date of any major construction project is inherently hard to predict with unexpected new costs, worker training and weather so variable. If by summer 2020, the arena completion date is set for mid-November, would Seattle accept a 12 to 15-game road trip to begin its inaugural campaign?
WORLD CUP 2020 + OLYMPICS 2022
Deciding in what season Seattle first hits the ice also has a corollary related to global best-on-best tournaments. If the league settles on 2020, then we can interpret that as a vote of confidence that they can work together with the players to produce a new CBA without a work stoppage before the 2020-21 season. Planning could then begin for staging another World Cup prior to that season or negotiations on whether to forego the World Cup and resume participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
However, if the league votes tomorrow for Seattle to begin play in 2021-22, that could be an admission of expecting a long and risky fight with the NHLPA that affects the start of the 2020-21 season. The World Cup could be in jeopardy as it would normally be scheduled days after the early termination date of the CBA. Players going to the 2022 Winter Olympics would not be a certainty either in this scenario. While a new CBA would eventually be created by the summer of 2021, would Seattle’s new team want the two-week Olympic break in the middle of February of its first season?
Lastly, all the other clubs (except Vegas) will need to know Seattle’s start date to begin planning for the dreaded expansion draft. There will be implications on who to protect, who must be protected by rule and who to expose. For the Penguins, this could affect the term and clauses of Jake Guentzel’s new contract. It could affect when Adam Johnson, Calen Addison and Jordy Bellerive are promoted. Or it could be the gift from the heavens that allows Jim Rutherford to jettison Jack Johnson’s ass.