Quick Hits: Six Things To Watch After NHL Recommends Advancing Seattle Expansion

Seattle is a vote and a cleared $650 million check from getting an NHL team.

Think about that.

What started as a dream several years ago is now on the precipice of reality — and could come true before the 2018 holiday season.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed Tuesday afternoon that Seattle received a unanimous recommendation from the executive committee, paving the way towards the end of an imbalanced and odd-numbered league.

The Emerald City has long served as the logical solution to evening the number of teams in the east and the west, while also giving the NHL a new market to dip its toes into.

Now it will be up to the Board of Governors to decide whether or not Seattle gets a team, and if so — when they will start playing.

Below are six things to keep an eye on in the coming days, weeks and months as we inch towards seeing NHL players wearing Seattle sweaters for the first time.

The Vote

The NHL confirmed what I reported the day before Seattle’s pitch to the executive committee: the earliest the Board of Governors will vote on Seattle expansion will be at their next meetings December 3rd & 4th.

In order for Seattle to get a team, they need at least 75% of the Board of Governors to vote in favor of expansion.

Barring anything disastrous between now and then, that vote should mostly be a formality for a few different reasons.

  1. The Board of Governors has never gone against an expansion recommendation from the executive committee
  2. Thirty of the 31 NHL owners will be eager to get their cut of Seattle’s $650 million expansion fee (more on this in a moment)
  3. Both Tod & Tim Leiweke are familiar with many members of the Board of Governors due to their past work or current business dealings
  4. The NHL likely wants to put all talk of expansion to bed, and welcoming Seattle to the fold would put a tidy cap on a 32-team league

The only question the league has left is something that’s our second, but most important, thing to watch.

KeyArena Construction

I know, I know. I’ve harped on this for months.

But it’s a legitimate concern, and one the NHL has despite the overwhelmingly positive talk of Seattle’s presentation to the executive committee.

My colleague Patrick Quinn was told after the presentation that the main questions from the league had to do with the arena construction timeline, and total cost of the project.

The latter is simple: Tim Leiweke & co. have to come up with a maximum total cost for the (estimated) $700 million rebuild of KeyArena. He’s mentioned that previously as one of the five huge hurdles he and the developers have to finish before they can break ground.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts: the agreement between the city and the Oak View Group says work cannot begin at Seattle Center unless several conditions are met or waived, including:

“The NHL Board of Governors shall have approved the application for and awarded the thirty-second (32nd) NHL expansion franchise to Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to be located in the City of Seattle, and delivered notice of same to the City, and Seattle Hockey Partners LLC and the NHL shall have executed the expansion franchise agreement.”

The problem is: the NHL typically does not want to approve expansion without a guarantee that a new arena will be done and in place for a team’s debut season.

This attitude changed starting with the Nashville expansion in 1997, when the Music City had a new arena already in place. Prior to that, cities and ownership groups were awarded teams but those franchises would often play in small, temporary arenas for their first few seasons until their sparkling new home was finished.

We need to look no further than the NHL’s newest addition in Sin City for justification of this new view.

May 1, 2014: Workers in Las Vegas break ground on T-Mobile Arena

December, 2014: Commissioner Bettman lets (at the time) potential owner Bill Foley do a season ticket deposit drive

February 10, 2015: Vegas season ticket deposit drive begins

April 6, 2016: T-Mobile Arena opens

June 22, 2016: NHL approves Vegas expansion

If you combine the NHL’s past stance with Seattle’s ‘expansion before construction’ clause, you leave yourself with a hockey version of the ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum. If the plan is to have the NHL break into Seattle in October 2020, then one side will need to blink.

Unless the city or the league gives up its position, a December 5th groundbreaking for an October 2020 debut is the largest window we’d be looking at. As I’ve discussed multiple times: history says it’s incredibly rare to build a current arena in that short of a timespan.

Based on what Bettman said Tuesday, it seems like the league is in ‘wait and see’ mode on the arena and a debut. (Quote via Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press)

“They have a lot of work to do initially. They’ve got to stop using KeyArena, there’s some demolition, they’ve got to dig a bigger hole, they’ve got to put the steel in. Once that’s all accomplished, we’ll have a better sense. But everybody’s goal is 2020 if it can be accomplished. If it’s not, then we’ll do it in ’21.”

The last event at KeyArena was October 5th. That’s not an issue.

Yet it’s not exactly confidence-inducing to see Bettman citing the “lot of work to do initially” and saying “Once that’s all accomplished, we’ll have a better sense.” Both Bettman and the Seattle delegation agreed that they are shooting for 2020, though Bettman added that it depends on how things go.

If you read some of OVG CEO Tim Leiweke’s recent comments, then you get the idea they hope the positive recommendation from the executive committee is enough to satisfy the expansion clause in the city agreement. He wants to get into KeyArena as early as possible, and said they hope to gain some momentum this week and “convince people” that starting in November works.

Based on my past research of how long it took to build every single arena in regular use at the NHL level this year, here’s how a (theoretical) mid-November groundbreaking would look.

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 8.26.07 PM

Still not great, but we get back over the 20% mark for the number of current arenas completed in 688 days or fewer (mid-November to Oct. 1, 2020). That puts us back in the plausible range.

I bring this November example up in light of Tim Leiweke’s comments, but also this report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

Frank told me he got that from a source. While I do not doubt Frank’s reporting (he’s very good, and I miss him on the Flyers beat), it does not match up with the specific wording in the ‘expansion before construction’ condition the city spelled out in its arena deal with OVG.

When asked earlier on Oct. 2nd whether a positive recommendation from the executive committee would satisfy that requirement, Mayor Jenny Durkan said this:

“You know the contract requires very specifics on what we have to do to go forward. And so we want a very clear sign that that happens, because the public has to know that the risk is on the ownership team.”

Neither myself nor colleague Quinn have gotten a response from the city or the Seattle Hockey Partners about Frank’s report.

However, a spokesperson for Mayor Durkan did release this statement Thursday.

The completed Development Agreement set forth that [OVG] could begin its pre-construction as early as October 2018 and begin demolition once all conditions set forth in the agreement are met, which include securing all necessary permits, securing noise ordinance variances, and showing proof of insurance, as well as the NHL awarding a franchise, among other conditions. It has always been assumed that this work would proceed while the parties await final approval of an NHL franchise, and that timeline is memorialized in the Development Agreement.

“Following Tuesday’s unanimous recommendation by the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors, the City will continue its work with [OVG] to begin necessary pre-construction activities as soon as possible. There is considerable preliminary work that needs to be done before demolition can begin, including utility terminations, environmental and geotechnical testing and remediation, mobilization, material and equipment stockpiling, and installation of fencing. That work can proceed before the NHL franchise is officially awarded. The conditions for demolition and construction were carefully negotiated to protect the City’s interests while still looking forward to an arena opening in October 2020.”

So OVG will be allowed to do the pre-construction prep work once they get the keys to The Key on October 15th. The group confirmed this with a “construction update” of their own.

However, this statement from the Mayor’s spokesperson says OVG will not be allowed to do any demolition until the NHL franchise is officially awarded — lining up a December 4th or 5th groundbreaking (at the earliest). Those who’ve been following along knew what that timeline looks like in September.

What’s to-be-determined is whether OVG is actively trying to get the city to allow demolition to begin prior to the next Board of Governors meeting.

One more thing on the arena: the league could also punt the Seattle vote to its next meeting beyond December if it’s not happy with where things stand on construction, or the Board of Governors have unanswered questions following NHL Seattle’s next update.

While the NHL has not officially announced the dates of its third Board of Governors meetings, they’re typically held over the All-Star Break (which is January 24-27, 2019).

Based on the glowing comments from all involved in Tuesday’s league meetings, and the sense that both parties want to ‘get this done,’ I don’t think that delay to January happens. But I’d rather you be aware of the possibility now, than be caught off-guard in the future.

Ok, enough ‘potential gloom and perils’ for now.

Due to Tuesday’s action by the executive committee, and comments from the commissioner, we can now seriously start talking about the fun parts of expansion.

The Practice/Training Facility

It’s official: we’ll be talkin’ ’bout practice. (Yes I know this is a hockey blog, but the Philadelphian in me could not pass up making the reference.) 

Tod Leiweke confirmed that NHL Seattle wants to put its three-rink training facility at the Northgate Mall. In addition to being necessary for an NHL team, it will also provide some much needed ice for people in the greater Seattle area to use and enjoy. (Andy Eide wrote up a good story explaining exactly why that ice is needed for the community).

While the renderings of the facility look pretty darn sweet, the question I wondered about (like always) is when they can get to work. Leiweke said it, like the arena, is contingent on the NHL awarding Seattle a team.

So again — we’re talking about a dream-scenario of an early December start. But the city will also have to sign off on the addition of this space to the plans to overhaul and redevelop Northgate before any construction can begin (sound familiar?).

Picking Seattle’s First Players

Yes, we can now start to actually daydream about the first players wearing Seattle sweaters/jerseys who will be skating at a new KeyArena.

Commissioner Bettman confirmed (again) that Seattle will have the same rules as the Vegas Golden Knights did in their expansion draft, with a minor twist that was first reported several months ago. Vegas will not be at risk of losing players to Seattle.

How are the Knights skating out of trouble?

Well, as Chris Johnston previously reported, Vegas’ owner Bill Foley will not be getting a cut of the $650 million check from Seattle. Per Chris, that was part of the deal Foley negotiated with the league when getting approved as the 31st franchise.

In terms of the actual rules which will determine the first players for a Seattle to-be-named team, I wrote up a deep-dive explaining all of the expansion draft nuances in June. There’s a lot in there, from the basics of how many guys each team protect, to who will and won’t be eligible, to who has to be available to Seattle.

Keep it handy or bookmarked as a reference during the next two hockey seasons when you want to start watching games and picking out players you hope Seattle will get.

Team Name & Colors

This is likely still the hottest hockey topic in Washington state.

NHL Seattle has said they’re monitoring several different online name tournaments to see which ones people seem to be in support of most (I’m all-in on Kraken, personally).

Tod Leiweke & co. have said their goal is to reveal the name and colors of the team sometime in the first or second quarter (January-June) of 2019.

Getting The GM

This will be the next important hire the Seattle Hockey Partners make.

Both Dave Tippett and Tod Leiweke have said they hope to have a general manager in place around the end of the 2019 NHL Entry (amateur) Draft. That would be 12 months before a 2020 expansion draft, and 15 months before a Seattle franchise’s first training camp.

That timeline, obviously, will depend on whether the NHL approves Seattle expansion for 2020 or 2021, but also who they hire.

Yet based on both Leiweke & Tippett’s effusive praise for how Vegas’ process went, and the success of their GM, I’d imagine Seattle wants to follow a similar road map if possible.

There’s already a roaring fire of speculation surrounding the future of the man who’s considered one of, if not the, best GMs in hockey. Seattle is one widely-guessed possibility for him (and he would be a slam-dunk hire).

But there is a whole other host of names that we should be monitoring throughout this season. Expect something from me on this soon as well.

There’s a lot of important stuff to keep an eye on — but also the fun things can be taken seriously from here on out.

Get to dreaming, debating, and strategizing.

Winter is (almost) on its way.


As always: if you have any questions or feedback: leave a comment, send me an email at the address on the bottom of the page or hit me up on Twitter (@ScottMalone91).

2 thoughts on “Quick Hits: Six Things To Watch After NHL Recommends Advancing Seattle Expansion

  1. Out of curiosity, which current NHL arenas that finished faster are you referring to?

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    1. It depends on the “groundbreaking” and “opening” dates we go with. A December 5th start (seeming likely) combined with an October 1 2020 opening gives us 667 days. Four current NHL arenas were built in 667 days or less: Arizona, Winnipeg, Ottawa & St. Louis. St. Louis drops out if you want the arena “opening” in mid-September 2020 (fewer days for work). More arenas get added with a mid-November groundbreaking and October 1 2020 opening (more days for work).

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