NHL ready to expand to Seattle as soon as it builds arena that it’s not going to build for hockey

It’s time for another round of “Where will the NHL expand next?” with your old pal, David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail! Shoalts reports that expansion talks are “happening at the highest level,” with Seattle, Las Vegas, and Quebec City “the cities in play.”

Quebec has a ready-made fan base for a reformed Nordiques and an arena already under construction; Las Vegas has more arena plans than you can shake a stick at and a couple of potential ownership groups (one of which, alarmingly, is the Maloof brothers). Seattle, meanwhile, says Shoalts, “seems to be the darling of many NHL governors (even though its arena plans are tilted more to the NBA).”

That’s a revealing little parenthetical, because right now the Seattle arena plans actually require the NBA: Would-be builder Chris Hansen has only committed to the project if he first gets a basketball franchise that he can turn into a revived Sonics. That deal could be revised for hockey, but Seattle city council president Tim Burgess says it probably won’t be:

Responding to an email from Sportspress NW, City Council president Tim Burgess wrote Tuesday that the memorandum of understanding is unlikely to be changed because the financial risk is too high.

“I don’t believe the MOU could be modified to allow an NHL team to go first,” Burgess wrote. “During our initial consideration of the MOU, it was quite clear that the financial risk to the city increased dramatically with the NHL-first scenario.”


A source within the group helping Hansen, the Seattle native who has proposed a $500 million basketball/hockey arena in SoDo, said Hansen has given no consideration to asking the city to change.

“Chris has not proposed changing anything,” he said. “He’s always said he’s a basketball guy.”

What’s so special about basketball, anyway? For starters, Hansen actually likes the sport — all signs are that he’s willing to overpay for both a franchise and an arena if it gets him a hoops team to sit courtside for. Also, Seattle has a proven track record with basketball that it doesn’t with hockey (most of the fans of the 1917 Stanley Cup-winning Seattle Metropolitans aren’t so much around anymore), and the NBA is in general a more profitable entity than the NHL — leaving more money floating around to potentially fill in all those gaping holes in the arena construction spreadsheet.

All this is, of course, subject to change. But right now, it looks more like the NHL is using Seattle for leverage with the other expansion candidates, while holding out hope that somehow an arena deal will emerge overnight once Hansen, Burgess, and the rest catch hockey fever. Shoalts can talk all he wants about how adding two West Coast teams would make conference scheduling easier, but when it comes down to it, this decision is going to be made based on what plan makes Gary Bettman’s owner friends the most money.

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22 comments on “NHL ready to expand to Seattle as soon as it builds arena that it’s not going to build for hockey

  1. Hey, we still need arenas that can host NCAA regional tournaments (like KeyArena did for W VB and W BB Pac12 tournament).

  2. What about Portland? They have a huge arena and only have the Blazers as major pro sports competition. The city is big enough for a 2nd team and fit the bill for being a PNW rival to the Canucks. Bettman keeps talking about that and he never specifically says “Seattle”. Portland could and should be his backup plan.

  3. Portland is actually a better hockey town than Seattle, but I don’t think Paul Allen wants an NHL team battling his Blazers for playing dates in the Rose Garden (or whatever they call it this year). I’m not sure there are enough sports dollars in PDX to support two major league franchises playing at the same time either.

    Seattle is attractive to the NHL because it’s such a large market without an NBA OR NHL team, but Bettman shouldn’t even consider putting a team there until an arena is finished. KeyArena isn’t even a good Junior hockey facility and the Tacoma Dome’s distance and sightlines won’t work as a temp venue. Whatever happened to Don Levin and his big talk about an arena in Bellevue?

  4. The rumour was that Portland was supposed to be the temporary location of the Coyotes if they were moving for a year, not Seattle.

    It’s hard to see how Seattle would be leverage for Quebec City, though, PKP and the provincial government are throwing the kitchen sink to get a team already.

  5. Expansion? Expansion?! Like my waist line the NHL needs to be getting smaller instead of getting larger.

  6. @Guilty Bystander

    Good points although I think Paul Allen would be the owner of a Portland expansion team. He was rumored to be the Coyotes buyer had the Glendale city council voted against keeping the team so I have to think he’d be willing to own an expansion team as well.

  7. @Guilty Bystander

    Re: Bellevue, I assume that an arena is going to get built somewhere in the Seattle metro area, sometime in the next couple of years. Bellevue dropped off the radar because it looked like Hansen was very close to having the pre-requisites (location + approval + team) nailed down last year but it wouldn’t be totally shocking for it (Bellevue) to pop up again now that there doesn’t appear to be a near-term path forward for Hansen. The Bellevue city government has been run by real estate developers since forever – the makeup has changed a bit but I think that’s still the case.

  8. Two West Coast teams, eh? Of course, if that doesn’t happen & it’s in Quebec, that means the Red Wings would be the next team to move to the Western Conference. But we all know it’ll most likely be the Blue Jackets.
    The NHL needs to move and/or contract before it expands.

  9. No arena. End of story. I imagine Shoalts sits at his cottage (without power, tv, radio, phone etc) dreaming these things up. It’s a non story story.

    The only way an arena gets built is as part of a new Sonics deal. Absent that, no arena, no NHL. Hansen has made it very clear he would consider having an NHL team as a paying tenant (whoosh! There goes any chance of an NHL team being a cash cow in what should be a decent market), but that he will not be the owner.

    As with Purdy (in the SJMN) the other day, this is column inch filler for the globe, nothing more.

  10. I’d be very, very surprised if the NHL’s masterplan (based on realignment) isn’t to put a team in Houston and the Pacific Northwest. Does Houston make sense? Not from a hockey perspective, no – but it’s the 5th-largest metro area and the 4th-largest city and its economy is incredible. It also has an arena downtown that can accommodate hockey without renovation.

    Quebec City is likely the fallback location when/if a struggling Eastern Conference franchise needs to be moved (here’s looking at you, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina).

  11. Don Levin has given up. To much risk and NHL keeps talking in circles. Seattle appears like leverage for Vega$. A Vega$ franchise for the NHL with the Maloof boys calling the shots. Midnight hockey and empty(but paid for) seats. All we need after that is Jim Balsillie stalking the franchise for an escape to Hamilton. Put on your seat belts.

  12. Columbus won’t move, they have the best lease in the NHL… Practically pay nothing. And if they move they have to pay the city more than what the team is worth. 36 year lease

  13. Lol Seattle isn’t being used as leverage for “other expansion cities”. That’s ridiculous. There have been multiple sources explaining that the nhl and Seattle have been in discussions for expansion. If anything Vegas is being used as leverage. Or even Quebec. There aren’t gonna expand to the eastern conference. Plus the nhl finds Seattle as an attractive market because it is the largest city with a winter sports team. It’s gonna expand in the west to balance out the conferences….

  14. Russ – don’t think these conferences are set in stone. NHL has realigned many, many times. You can’t expect geographical balance when 2/3rds of the teams are in the Eastern & Central Time Zones.
    Erik G. – Just because you can with Houston, doesn’t mean you should. Tho the Houston Aeros are gone.

  15. Hansen wasn’t the only person that took a trip to Vancouver to study the aspects of the Nucks business. Seattle will get a NHL team before an NBA team because the NHL is actually interested while the NBA clearly is not.

  16. Columbus gets paid, effectively, to play in the arena. But they don’t get paid as much as the Coyotes do to play in the arena the boneheads in Glendale built for them… and now Florida wants to be paid to play in their arena too.

    Shoot these dogs before they can breed.

  17. Joe: Where will this mythical Seattle team play? At Key? Doesn’t work.

    Are you expecting Hansen will build a $450m arena for a sport that doesn’t interest him? Hansen wants and NBA team, not an NHL team. Billionaires tend not to like settling for second place… so I wouldn’t put money on him changing his mind and falling in love with Hockey. The Sonics will be profitable… not sure about a Seattle NHL team… it would have to slot in some way down the sporting entertainment ladder (maybe 7th or 8th), whereas the Sonics II would probably slot in 3rd or 4th.

  18. Hey now, the KeyArena is perfectly capable of doing the same sort of hockey seating as the future home of the Islanders… one of the most modern arenas in the country.

  19. CJ: It would be the same “kind” of setup as the bad one @ Barclays, but my understanding of Key Arena’s bowl setup is that it is a little tighter than Ratner’s building… IE: even fewer “short end” seats would be usable.

    It’s not like we needed more evidence that C. Wang may be a lunatic… but his decision not to be involved in the Atlantic yards arena from the beginning (an option he clearly had) was absolutely bonkers.

  20. John Bladen,
    probably not by too much. The KeyArena hockey capacity is in the lower 15,000s using some of the seating in the upper decks that have limited view of the goal. Same for the new configs used by the Barclay’s Center that quote capacity in the upper 15,000s. Without those seats (like the seating chart I’d linked to earlier) the Barclay’s center was seating 14,500.

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