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Can Seattle work out its arena issues and join Las Vegas as NHL slam-dunk?

Ken Campbell
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Seattle skyline (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Can Seattle work out its arena issues and join Las Vegas as NHL slam-dunk?

Ken Campbell
By:

With just four days to go for expansion bids to come to the NHL office, there are reportedly two applications that have been signed, sealed and delivered. One of them is from Las Vegas and the other is from Quebec City.

With just four days to go for expansion bids to come to the NHL office, there are reportedly two applications that have been signed, sealed and delivered. One of them is from Las Vegas and the other is from Quebec City.

How much that number will rise will be determined over the next couple of days by the number of bids that will come from Seattle. There could be as many as three of them. It is expected another will come from the Toronto area, but venture capitalist Graeme Roustan, who is reportedly spearheading a bid to build an arena that would accommodate a for a second team in the Toronto area, could not be reached.

Expansion applications must be sent to the NHL office by midnight Monday night along with a $10 million deposit, $2 million of which is non-refundable.

Things seem to be heating up in Seattle with the news that there is apparently a third party that is interested in bringing the NHL there. One group is led by Connecticut-based Ray Bartoszek, who is working with the suburb of Tukwila, which is 11 miles southeast of Seattle, to build a privately funded rink. The other group is led by B.C.-born developer Victor Coleman and Seattle investor Chris Hansen, who have been trying for months to come to a partnership on a downtown arena. The identity of the possible third group is unknown.

The NHL would prefer to be downtown, but the uncertainty surrounding an arena could be an obstacle. One of the reasons for that is on Wednesday, the Wisconsin State Senate passed a motion by a 21-10 margin to provide funding for a new arena in Milwaukee for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

How does that affect Seattle’s NHL expansion bid? Well, without a new arena, the Bucks were threatening to leave Milwaukee and Seattle had emerged as a leading contender for their landing spot. And when it comes to an arena in downtown Seattle, having an NBA team would open the way for an NHL team to come, but not the other way around. The city has assured Hanson and Coleman funding if they build a basketball-first arena, but not if the arena will only house a hockey team. Without the funding from the city, Coleman, who wants only to own a hockey team, is faced with either coming to a deal with Hansen, who has only interest in a basketball team and no interest in a hockey team, or raising all the money to build a hockey-first rink himself.

There was some speculation that Coleman might submit an application without the certainty of a downtown arena, then continue to work toward securing one. With no other NBA teams looking to relocate and NBA commissioner Adam Silver on record as saying the league is not in expansion mode, the dream of attracting a basketball team to Seattle seems dead for the time being.

There is a growing sentiment that the league will expand by two teams and if Seattle can emerge with a solid ownership group and assurances that a building will be built, it will have the inside edge to get a team. but that's still a bif 'if' at the moment. As of now, there is no iron-clad plan for an arena in place, either downtown or in the suburbs. But the sense is that once that hurdle is cleared, Seattle is in. Las Vegas, which is led by billionaire Bill Foley, is thought to be a slam-dunk.

Expanding to Seattle and Las Vegas would give the league a perfect balance of 16 teams in each conference and even the geographical disparity between the east and west. It’s leading some to believe that an application for Quebec City and Toronto might turn out to be wasted money. Remember, anyone who applies for an NHL franchise must put up $10 million, $2 million of which the NHL keeps. The league can also spend, at its discretion, as much of the remaining $8 million it sees fit to do market studies, feasibility studies and to cover any legal or consulting fees.

If Las Vegas is a lock and Seattle is close to a lock, why bother applying then? Well, as one source put it, applying now would feather a possible owner’s nest for the next round of expansion and curry favor with commissioner Gary Bettman and the league governors. It would be a rather expensive way to do that, particularly with no guarantee of ever getting a team. But it should also be remembered that there are some teams in trouble and a good expansion bid for Quebec City or Toronto could lead to one or both of them becoming candidates for relocation in the future.

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Can Seattle work out its arena issues and join Las Vegas as NHL slam-dunk?