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.”

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