Last year it was reported in the media and on many websites that Seattle, Quebec City, Toronto, and Las Vegas were “done deals” for NHL expansion, said to occur in 2017, the centenary of the NHL. But after the NHL’s official announcement for bidders to start submitting their proposals, even Commissioner Gary Bettman admitted that Seattle was not ready.
The NHL has had some interest in fostering a Seattle franchise for a few years now. It was said that they would partner Quebec to round off the league to a symmetrical 32 teams. But now it looks like Las Vegas will be Quebec’s partner instead and Seattle will be left out in the cold for this session of expansion.
It is all because Seattle has not resolved its arena problem (and the excessive entry fee), one of three conditions, Gary Bettman and the NHL have publicly stated as mandatory before any expansion bid will be considered. In contrast, both Quebec and Las Vegas have been building modern arenas in anticipation of NHL expansion.
Seattle’s arena problem is said to be also further tangled up with what league a potential builder/owner wants to be in. It is alleged that Seattle really wants to get back into the NBA and that getting an NHL team is just icing on the cake. It is alleged that legal documents would have to be changed so that an arena that will be built for the NHL first instead of the NBA has to be resolved.
So unlike Quebec and Las Vegas, no shovels are in the ground and nothing has been clarified. One of the expansion leaders has been caught with its pants down, despite the NHL’s attempts to bend over backwards to secure its admission to the league.
This is not the first time a potential NHL expansion leader has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the early 1990s, Hamilton, Ontario was a front-runner for an NHL team. They had even built a modern arena which had been used successfully for the 1987 Canada Cup which Canada won on its second international epic goal scored by Mario Lemieux, assisted by Wayne Gretzky. During that final game, a camera even caught a sign begging the NHL to give Hamilton a team.
So when NHL expansion was announced it seemed that Hamilton was a sure thing. But the bidder, Tim Donut, made the mistake of questioning the NHL’s terms when the NHL (like all the arrogant “big four” professional sports leagues) expected mindless acceptance. Tampa Bay got a team and Hamilton’s franchise slipped into the hands of the Ottawa bidder. Hamilton has been on the outside looking in ever since.
During the last expansion process in 1997, eleven bidders, including three separate bids from Houston, Texas made a pitch for one of four teams. There is no doubt that the NHL wanted Houston in. It was the largest city in the United States without professional hockey. It was ultra-rich with extensive media and potential corporate sponsors, and there was a natural rivalry of Houston with Dallas and possibly with Phoenix, Colorado, and St. Louis.
But somehow despite three bids and all the favoritism the NHL could show, Houston fumbled away its chances and NHL franchises went to Nashville, Minnesota, Atlanta, and Columbus. Houston joined Hamilton as a city that somehow lost an NHL franchise that seemed signed, sealed and delivered.
They say things happen in threes and Seattle is looking more and more like the city that will join Hamilton and Houston as a failed NHL expansion favorite, because it cannot resolve its arena problem.
This is a shame because unlike many of the doubtful cities that the NHL has chosen or accepted during Gary Bettman’s tenure like Atlanta, Florida, Columbus, and Phoenix, Seattle has deep roots in hockey and would have no problem with an enthusiastic fan-base.
In fact, Seattle is one of the few American cities where it can be truly said what took you so long to join the NHL. Seattle in fact was the first American city to win the Stanley Cup and was competing for another one in 1919 against Montreal when the great influenza epidemic halted the Stanley Cup finals, the only time in NHL history. Seattle has deep roots in Canadian hockey, icing a CHL team that competes for Canada’s national junior championship, the Memorial Cup. They would have a natural rivalry with Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim, and possibly with Edmonton and Calgary too.
Canadians look at the doubtful cities the NHL has accepted during Bettman’s regime that have no past experience with hockey and complain bitterly that they are ignored when the NHL expands. They cannot make that claim against Seattle.
But with all this going for it, Seattle’s position of NHL expansion favorite is gone for now and in peril for the future. And given the rarity in which professional sports leagues have been expanding of late, it may be a long time before it does join the NHL.