Seattle to Join NHL in 2021-22 as 32nd Franchise

The NHL Board of Governors has approved the location for the league’s 32nd franchise: Seattle. They will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

At the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Sea Island, Georgia today, the vote was unanimous to approve the Seattle ownership group’s application for entry into the league. In addition, the league approved a realignment of the Western Conference’s divisions that would see Seattle join the Pacific Division and the Arizona Coyotes shift to the Central. (The Coyotes will stay put in the Pacific until the 2021-22 season.)

Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned that this will make the NHL “more balanced” in terms of having an even 16 teams in each Conference. Bettman also mentioned rivalries with teams out West like the Vancouver Canucks, just a few hours across the Canadian border from Seattle.

The ownership group is headed by “a private equity CEO” named David Bonderman. The group will pay $650 million in expansion fees, which Dan Rosen of NHL.com pointed out is $150 million more than Bill Foley’s group paid for the Vegas Golden Knights to join the NHL two years ago.

Bonderman told Rosen that he “went to school [in Seattle]” and went to the University of Washington, where he graduated. He said that he “worked on the Space Needle in 1962” so he has roots in the Pacific Northwest city.

The arena situation is unique, as they will not be playing in a totally brand new building, but rather an existing building that is being completely renovated from the ground up. The skeleton of the KeyArena will remain, but the group will be essentially creating a whole new arena from that. Ground will be broken on the renovation, a privately financed endeavor that will cost $800 million and eventually seat 17,400 for hockey, tomorrow according to the group’s CEO Tod Leiweke. Rosen’s article said that “(t)he renovation was awaiting NHL approval of the expansion team before it could begin.”

The arena was formerly home to the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA prior to them relocating and becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09. Rosen said that the group was hoping to begin play in 2020-21 but settled for 2021-22 because it will allow the renovations at (what is now being known as) the Seattle Center Arena to be fully completed. They are also having a training center built.

As for the construction of the team itself, Leiweke and Bettman told Rosen that the expansion draft will take place in June 2021 at the Seattle Center Arena and the rules will be the same as what Vegas got in June of 2017, so start placing bets now on Seattle to win the Western Conference in 2022. In additon, Rosen said that “the Golden Knights will be exempt from exposing players for the draft” likely due to them only having played four full NHL seasons come the time of Seattle’s expansion draft.

Rosen’s article said that the arena will “likely open in March or April 2021 with concerts” according to Leiweke. The first major tenent of the arena will be the Seattle Storm of the WNBA, who will play there in the summer of 2021.

As for what the team will be called? Leiweke told Rosen that “the ownership group will use the extra time it has to do its due diligence before it announces a team name.” Seattle has been host to numerous minor league and junior hockey teams and the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association became the first American franchise to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. They won before the NHL had exclusive control over the Cup and teams still challenged for it.

A few other teams to call Seatlle home over the last century have been the Totems of the professional PCHL, WHL and CHL. They operated from 1944 to 1975 and went by different names, including Ironmen, Bombers and Americans before settling on Totems in 1958. Junior teams to play in Seattle include the Breakers (who our very own Ken Daneyko played for) in the Western Hockey League and the current Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

Another factor mentioned in the Rosen article for why the expansion team was placed in Seattle was the rivalry with Vancouver. Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini has been adamant that a team in Seattle would be “impactful” for both the Canucks and the region. He told Rosen “Seattle is a great sports city and we can’t wait to ignite a true regional rivalry west of the Rockies for Canucks fans. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

After Seattle applied for a place in the NHL last year at the NHL Board of Governors meeting, a season ticket drive was held beginning on March 1, they had 10,000 deposits in the first 12 minutes alone. They had 32,000 within the first 31 hours and Rosen said that “(t)here is a waiting list with approximately 10,000 names on it.”

Opinion: “Non Traditional Market” Expansion Pays Off in Long Run

With the National Hockey League’s announcement last week that the Board of Governors had voted to expand the league into Las Vegas, Nevada, there was some of the predictable chatter about “non traditional hockey markets.” The hand wringing and disparaging remarks were even greater since the NHL had seemingly shunned a “traditional market” in Quebec City in giving the 31st franchise to Las Vegas.

However, as yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft illustrated to a point, putting teams in the “non traditional” markets and expanding the reach of the sport has already begun to pay off.

Another issue that comes up during discussions of expansion is how the talent pool will be “watered down” and you will have less talented players playing on NHL rosters.

Yesterday’s Draft also has seemingly put that argument to rest.

What yesterday’s Draft showed, with Auston Matthews of Scottsdale, Arizona (who grew up a Coyotes fan), being selected first overall, is that by putting franchises in places that normally would not have major league hockey, you open up the game by making new fans. Those new fans take their children to the game. Those children then fall in love with the game of hockey and bug their parents to let them try it. Maybe one of those kids is a one-in-a-million athlete, as Auston Matthews is. The next thing you know, he is being drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, hailed as the savior of that moribund franchise.

Would Toronto have gotten their latest savior had the NHL not taken the risk of putting a team in Arizona? The answer to that is a little bit more complicated than just a simple “no.” Yes, they would have gotten someone (likely from the “traditional” hotbeds of Canada, Minnesota, Michigan, New England or Europe) but the fact remains that Matthews’ rise shows just what the power of wading into uncharted waters can do for the NHL.

When you put a team in an area, kids latch on to them. The 2016 Draft saw a record number of Americans go in the first round (twelve of the 30 picks were American born). Now, some were the sons of former Canadian NHLers who were born in the US while their fathers were plying their trade. Players such as Kieffer Bellows (picked 19th overall by the Islanders) whose father, Brian, is from St. Catherines, Ontario; Kieffer was born in Minnesota.

But for every player in that category, you had an Andrew Peeke (taken in the 2nd round, 34th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Peeke is from Parkland, Florida and grew up a Panthers fan. Like Auston Matthews, he is a player from a “non traditional” market who grew up a fan of a team in that area.

The Devils even made a deal for a player who was born in California, in Beau Bennett, yesterday.

Although a record number of Americans were drafted yesterday, it is not like Canada was neglected. The best players in the world are still arguably produced north of the border. The only thing that is happening is that players are beginning to have to strive and compete even harder to get the spots that, in the past, would have been basically guaranteed them.

Once you open up a market like, say, Dallas, you begin to see kids taking up the sport who would not have before the NHL team arrived and begin to play at an elite level. Suddenly, within a generation or two, you begin to see players from the Nashvilles and Arizonas compete with Canadian kids for spots in the NHL.

And that begins to alleviate part two of the argument against expansion: too many teams will water down the league. Maybe, but water finds its own level and with more teams in new places getting new kids in those places to play hockey, they are going to give you more water in the talent pool to draw from.

In the past, prior to the Draft, teams like Montreal had the inside track on all of the best players in Quebec, which gave them a marked strategic advantage on the other clubs in the league. Now players from everywhere are available to any team in the NHL and that opens up great possibilities. Who would have guessed that a kid from the Arizona desert would essentially come to “save” the staid and tradition-bound Toronto Maple Leafs?

The NHL is a great product. It is the best hockey league in the world and it deserves to be seen by as many people in as many places as possible. Part of what makes hockey so inspiring is that when a kid sees it live, they will inevitably want to try it because it looks so cool. In the case of Auston Matthews, he was a great athlete inspired to play hockey because his parents took him to a Coyotes game. Without the Coyotes, Matthews would likely have ended up playing another sport (and considering what a good athlete he is said to be, that would be the gain of the NFL or MLB and not the NHL).

Granted, Arizona is not going to immediately supplant Alberta as a hockey hotbed simply because of one success story, but now young hockey players in Arizona have someone to look up to, one of their own is skating in the NHL. This, in turn, creates interest and more players in the future. It is self-sustaining. Where will the next success story come from? Could it be Las Vegas next?

And I am in no way advocating that the NHL neglect Canada. Canada is where the sport was invented and Canadian players are the lifeblood of the league. Denying Canada NHL hockey would be just as ridiculous as not allowing new markets to gain access to it. The further the reach of the sport, the better off the sport will be.

From a personal standpoint, that is huge. Growing up playing hockey, having Jim Dowd, a local hockey player who “made it” and was playing for my team, the Devils, was a real boost to a younger me. Now, obviously I did not make it to the NHL, but that is more due to a lack of skill and athleticism on my part. The main point is that I had someone to look up to. A role model who was from New Jersey and playing in “the Show.” I had the role model, but not the skill. More than a few kids in Arizona will now have the role model and the skill to make it to the NHL.

How far we have come that even forty years ago, it would have been crazy for an American to go first overall in the Draft. This year we had an American from Arizona go number one overall.

How things change. And a good deal of that change has come due to the opening up of markets that previously did not have NHL hockey and never would have had it would the NHL have listened to some of its harshest critics.

NHL Board of Governors Approves Las Vegas Franchise

The NHL made the rumors of a 31st franchise in the Nevada desert a reality today. In an announcement ahead of the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, commissioner Gary Bettman made it official: Las Vegas will be joining the NHL in 2017-18.

At a press conference at the ballroom of the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, Bettman announced that the league will be the first of the four major North American sports leagues to put a team in Vegas. The Board of Governors approved the expansion in a vote during their meetings early Wednesday.

The NHL will receive a $500 million expansion fee which “will be distributed equally among the existing 30 franchises” according to an article by Dan Rosen on NHL.com.

Rosen’s article also noted that the Board of Governors “voted to defer the application for an expansion team from Quebecor Inc., which maintains the goal of bringing NHL hockey back to Quebec City.” He says that the league still sees Quebec as an option for a future NHL franchise. However, as pointed out in the last post I made about the subject, there were three factors keeping Quebec from getting a team right away: the NHL’s geographic imbalance, “the difficulty of bringing two new teams in at the same time,” and the struggle of the Canadian dollar (which, as Rosen notes “was trading at 78 cents on the US dollar on Tuesday”).

As noted, Bill Foley’s Las Vegas team will play in the brand new T-Mobile Arena, which Rosen says is located  “just west” of the Las Vegas Strip. It has a hockey capacity of 17,368. The as yet unnamed team (although owner Foley has expressed an interest in the name “Black Knights” as a tribute to West Point athletics, his alma mater) will play in the Pacific Division when they come into the league.

There have been 14,000 season ticket deposits made and all of the luxury suites have been sold “since Foley launched a season ticket drive 16 months ago” according to Rosen.

With all of this comes the task of building the Las Vegas team and there will be an expansion draft set for next summer.

The rules will see the Las Vegas team select one player from each of the current NHL teams equaling out to 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Rosen notes that “it must select a minimum of 20 players who have existing contracts that carry through the 2017-18 season and the average annual value of the contracts it takes on must be at least 60 percent of the 2016-17 season salary-cap limit, which is $73 million.”

The Vegas team cannot buy out of any of these contracts until summer 2018.

As for protecting players, the 30 existing clubs can “protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and one goalie.”

Other notes from Rosen include: a player with a “no movement” clause in their contract at the time of the expansion draft “must be protected and will count towards their team’s protection limits unless the player agrees to waive his no-movement clause.” Teams must submit their protection lists by 5 PM ET on June 17, 2017. Las Vegas will submit their picks by 5 PM ET on June 20. Results will become public on June 21, 2017.

Furthermore, all skaters “exposed for the draft must be under contract for the 2017-18 season. Teams must expose a minimum of one defenseman and two forwards who played 40 or more games in 2016-17 season or 70 or more games in the previous two seasons.” Goalies also have to be under contract for 2017-18 or be scheduled to become a restricted free agent in summer 2017. Rosen notes: “In order to expose a goalie entering RFA status, the team must extend him his qualifying offer before submitting its protection list.”

First and second year pros will not be a part of the expansion draft and will not need to be protected by their teams.

As for the NHL Entry Draft in 2017, Vegas will go into the “Draft Lottery with the same odds as the team that finishes with the third fewest points in the 2016-17 season.” It will pick no lower than number six and will own the third pick in each round thereafter.

That is a lot to digest, but either way, welcome to the Las Vegas NHL entry!

Multiple Sources State NHL Expansion to Las Vegas Likely

According to sources such as ESPN, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, the NHL’s expansion to Las Vegas seems all but complete. The official announcement is supposed to come on June 22 prior to the Draft in Buffalo.

The team (which owner William Foley, according to SportsLogos.net, seems to be leaning towards naming the Black Knights – after his alma mater, the US Military Academy at West Point) would begin play in 2017-18.

The team has obviously not begun play, but has been a success thus far, with about 14,000 season tickets sold sight unseen according to the ESPN article on the matter. Those season ticket deposits should go a long way in helping to pay the $500 million expansion fee, a number that also comes from the ESPN article. The team will play in the newly built T-Mobile Arena.

This would be the first time the NHL has expanded since the 2000-01 season, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league.

As SportsLogos.net pointed out, the 17 years between the last NHL expansion and Las Vegas joining the league is the longest the NHL has gone between expansions since the 1967-68 expansion that doubled the size of the league. Before the Flyers, Kings, Penguins, North Stars, Blues and Seals joined the NHL, the last expansion was in 1926 and added the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Rangers.

The inclusion of a Las Vegas franchise would cause an imbalance in the league, with 31 teams. But it is not like that is a problem. The NHL played with 21 teams from 1979 to 1991 (from the WHA-NHL merger that brought the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and the original Winnipeg Jets to the league to the 1991 expansion that brought in the Sharks – the 22nd NHL franchise).

A Las Vegas franchise would obviously play in the Western Conference, which currently has two fewer teams than the East.

Some sources have speculated that with the pending announcement of a Vegas club joining the NHL, this puts Quebec City’s bid for the Nordiques to return to rest. However, they have pointed out that the NHL could be keeping Quebec open for possible franchise relocation in the future; with another possible expansion team to join in Seattle (should that city get their arena situation sorted out). This would keep the amount of teams in the East stable while adding two more in the West, making things completely balanced with an even number of teams.

Aside from the Conference imbalance, Quebec City also had to deal with the flagging Canadian dollar, as revenue is collected in Canadian dollars for Canadian teams, but salaries are paid in US dollars for all teams.

An NHL franchise in Vegas also marks the first major professional “Big 4” team in the gambling capital. With this, the NHL gets the prestige of being the first major league to put a team in the Nevada city, even as rumors continue to circulate that the NFL’s Oakland Raiders are thinking about relocation to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas has had minor pro hockey in the past, including both the old International Hockey League (the Las Vegas Thunder) and the ECHL (the Las Vegas Wranglers).

Hopefully the NHL works out in Sin City. We will see what happens on June 22. Good luck to Las Vegas!