According to a published report, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly traveled to Seattle last week to visit with civic officials, fuelling speculation that city will soon be home to a franchise in hockey’s top league. And while nothing is set in stone, Bettman’s trip to see Seattle mayor Ed Murray points to the eventual arrival of a day many hockey industry observers have been expecting for years: the day the NHL expands to 32 teams.
Of course, Bettman has consistently downplayed expansion rumors for as long as places such as Seattle, Quebec City and Las Vegas have been mentioned as potential NHL destinations. That’s what he’s paid to do. But just because there’s nothing happening on the league’s front burner doesn’t mean the back burner isn’t a little warm. How many months before the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg did we hear anything from league brass suggesting it would happen? The answer is zero months. When it comes to moving or creating a team, almost all the business is done behind the scenes before anyone will admit to anything officially.
As well, the current imbalance between conferences is an issue and the lack of a presence in an under-serviced hockey-friendly market such as Seattle has not gone unnoticed in ownership circles. There are too many good reasons for the NHL to set up shop in Seattle and not nearly enough reasons to remain on the outside looking in.
One of those reasons not to – the city’s lack of an NHL-worthy arena – is likely to be crossed off the list when a group of American high-rolling businessmen build a $490-million building in the coming years. In the time it takes to do so, the league may need a Seattle expansion team to play in the outdated Key Arena, but for the right amount of expansion fees, that would be a price NHL brass would be willing to pay. Indeed, a Seattle Times report in February had the league already negotiating potential expansion fees with interested ownership groups.
The particulars of who would own a Seattle expansion team and when it would begin play aren’t clear. But the drumbeat is getting louder, and it’s playing a song hockey fans in the crown jewel of the American Pacific Northwest are going to love.