Seattle gets NHL expansion team, to debut in 2021-22 season
SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- The NHL will add a franchise in Seattle, the league announced Tuesday after a unanimous vote by the board of governors.
The NHL's 32nd franchise will enter the league for the 2021-22 season as a member of the Pacific Division. That will trigger a realignment that will send the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division.
The cost for league entry will be $650 million, up 30 percent from the $500 million paid by the Vegas Golden Knights to enter the NHL last season.
Seattle's ownership group had expressed a desire to enter the league in 2020, but the league had reservations about whether that might rush the renovation to KeyArena and, instead, pushed the entry date a year later. Those renovations have now reached a price tag of $800 million, Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said. The initial projections were $600 million.
"When you include the cost of reimagining and building Seattle Center Arena, this is a transaction with a value of approximately $1.4 billion," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Which shows incredible commitment by everyone involved -- commitment not just to the NHL but also to the city of Seattle."
Seattle, the 18th-largest city in the United States, has not had a winter sports team since the NBA's SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. The Sonics also played in KeyArena. The WNBA's Seattle Storm are one of the current tenants of the arena, but will temporarily relocate for the 2019 and 2020 seasons as the building undergoes renovations.
Seattle's ownership group sent a strong contingent to Georgia for the board of governors meetings, including majority owner David Bonderman, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke, who most recently worked as the NFL's chief operating officer before he resigned in March.
"Today is an exciting and historic day for our league as we expand to one of North America's most innovative, beautiful and fastest-growing cities," Bettman said. "And we are thrilled that Seattle, a city with a proud hockey history that includes being the home for the first American team ever to win the Stanley Cup, is finally joining the NHL."
The Seattle Metropolitans played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and won the Stanley Cup in 1917. The franchise folded in 1924.
Tuesday's vote ended what had become a monthslong inevitability. In March, the Seattle ownership group launched a season-ticket drive and said it reached 25,000 deposits within the first hour. That exceeds the goal of 10,000 deposits -- which was reached in the first 12 minutes.
For context, the Golden Knights ran a season-ticket drive in 2015 and received 5,000 deposits in the first two days.
In October, the Seattle ownership group and Mayor Jenny Durkan made a two-hour presentation to the NHL executive committee in New York. The committee voted 9-0 to recommend and forward the bid to the league's full board of governors.
The Seattle group already has paid a $10 million deposit to the league along with its official application.
Leiweke said there is no timeframe for announcing a team name.
"We're going to take our time," Leiweke said. "There's a group of owners involved. We're going to listen to our fans and we're going to do it right and we're not going to have a time pressure, but it's something we're working on each and every day."
Added Bruckheimer: "It's exciting and daunting and scary. ... You just want to do right for Seattle and bring great players and hopefully pick a name where we won't get too many people mad at us."
Bettman said several times that a Seattle franchise will benefit from the same expansion-draft rules used by the Golden Knights. Even after Vegas made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final during its inaugural season, Bettman said in May that he had received "no pushback whatsoever" from other league owners about repeating the same process for Seattle.
"I think clubs have learned a lot," Bettman said at a news conference before the Stanley Cup Final began in Las Vegas. "We needed to make the team more competitive. ... This was the first expansion in the salary-cap era as we afford all of our clubs an opportunity to be competitive; it wouldn't make any sense to not have the expansion team the same way."
The Golden Knights had hoped to become the first expansion team in the NHL, MLB, NBA or NFL since the 1950 Cleveland Browns to win a championship in its inaugural season. The Washington Capitals won the series 4-1.
The Seattle ownership group felt a sense of relief Tuesday. Various ownership groups had tried to both renovate KeyArena and make a bid for a franchise, to no avail.
"I never felt it was preordained," Leiweke said. "And, by the way, if it was, it would have happened a long time ago. This has been a real journey that's had challenges and it's not been for the faint of heart. My brother [Tim] deserves enormous credit for saying a building that others gave up on for dead [could be saved]. And now we can look at that building -- and it does have a soul -- and say its best days are in front of it.
"It's not just about hockey. It's about all the other events that'll come. Today is a day of hope, promise ... and we got a lot of hard work in front of us."
The addition of Seattle likely ends the NHL's expansion for the short-term future. However, some cities, including Houston, remain as possible relocation sites.