Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM!

Officially all the NHL is doing is allowing a Seattle ownership group to make an ownership bid to which they will make the usual standard investigations about how appropriate it is, subject to league approval. Forget about them, they are just a formality. Seattle now has an NHL team, exactly a century after they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. It’s over; unless something incredible happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Seattle will begin play in the 2020-21 season.

The NHL had been eying Seattle for the past several years. Seattle is an obvious NHL expansion city, one of the better ones (I had it listed in my group of top 10 cities for NHL expansion), with deep roots in hockey in Canada, competing for the Stanley Cup in even its pre-NHL period and for decades in the CHL, competing for Canada’s top junior trophy, the Memorial Cup. In fact the only surprise is why it took 100 years to join the NHL. And if Las Vegas with its doubtful market is proving to be an overwhelming success because of excellent ownership, the same conditions should make the new Seattle team an undoubted, sure winner.

The new Seattle team will play in a $600 million renovated, Key Arena, a sports facility that opened in 1962 and is therefore 55 years old (more on the repercussions of this decision later). Aping Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley, Bruckheimer and Bonderman will conduct their own preliminary season ticket drive to see who will put their money where their mouths are.

Perhaps even more important than Seattle’s admission to the NHL is its repercussions for the future. The news of Seattle joining the NHL has direct repercussions on Phoenix, Vancouver, Hartford, Calgary, NHL realignment, renovated arenas, the NBA, and future NHL expansion. All these topics probably need full, fleshed-out articles, but I’ll go over them briefly now.


This is the easiest one to document. Edmonton and Calgary were always each other’s best rivals with Vancouver their number two choice. Vancouver will now have its own best NHL rival all to itself, joining the Seattle Sounders-Vancouver Whitecaps MLS rivalry. Seattle will also have rivalries with Edmonton, Calgary, all the California teams, and possibly Las Vegas.


With the current troubles about where the Arizona Coyotes will play in the future, there were rumors that Seattle and Portland were cities that the current Coyote ownership was negotiating with for possible relocation. The granting of an NHL franchise to Seattle obviously rules out the Coyotes moving there. Baring a miracle about building a new downtown Phoenix arena, funded by taxpayers, where will the Coyotes play? Houston, Portland, Quebec, and Hartford are still in the running.


Originally it was supposed to be a new NBA franchise owner of a returned Supersonics building a brand new arena with an NHL expansion team as a tenant. But now the NHL has beaten the NBA to the punch. Where does this leave a returned Supersonics?

Calgary, Hartford And Renovated Arenas

As noted above, by virtually granting a team to Seattle, the NHL is saying that they approve the renovation of an old, 55 year old arena. Yet at the same time, the NHL is telling the Calgary Flames ownership to play hardball with Calgary taxpayers and city officials about building a new arena to succeed the 34 year old Saddledome, one of the NHL’s better arenas with over 19,000 seats (see below about the Seattle renovation). Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? The Flames ownership won’t say since they want a new arena that they don’t have to pay for. But surely a cheaper renovation of the existing building is much better for taxpayers and city officials than building a costly, perhaps unnecessary new arena. If the NHL is going to a accept a renovated arena in Seattle, how can they turn down a cheaper Calgary renovation?

For Hartford, the admission of Seattle in a renovated old arena should mean that the NHL will also approve the $250 million renovation Hartford and Connecticut plan to spend to get the Whalers back. The XL Center is only 41 years old so if the NHL can accept the Key Arena, they should also accept the XL Center. The new renovation will give the XL Center over 19,000 seats (again see below about the Seattle renovation).

More importantly, if this proposed Seattle renovation is done, the renovated Key Arena’s seating capacity will make it the third smallest arena in the NHL (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena), ahead of only Winnipeg and New York. For the money they plan to spend ($600 million), would it not be better to tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new one with enlarged seating instead?

NHL Realignment

Probably this is only a temporary stopping point in NHL expansion (The NHL has an unofficial commitment to return both Quebec and Hartford to the league plus they want an NHL team in Houston). Probably they want to expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. But by expanding to 32 teams in balanced conferences, the NHL now has the opportunity to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 divisions of 4 teams each. Once the Seattle franchise is formally approved, expect the NHL to follow it up with an announcement of realignment. Whether there will be other new expansion teams added before this announcement is made remains to be seen.

Future NHL Expansion

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHL owners have more than the obvious reason to welcome Seattle into the NHL and probably this is the most important one. The last NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a bust. Probably what the NHL wanted was an expansion of four teams, Quebec and three western cities so the NHL could not only expand but realign as well. Before the expansion was even announced, the press and the Internet were saying that there were four “done deals” already; Quebec, Las Vegas, second Toronto, and Seattle. But of 16 possible bids, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City continued on to the end (The Quebec bid was “suspended” by the NHL probably because the NHL does not like the potential owner who made racist statements about an NHL Board owner, is an active pro-separatist of Quebec independence, and is generally untrustworthy), probably because the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. It was a humiliating failure, probably the first time a “big 4″ league expansion had no competition between rival cities. I even speculated that the NHL would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley, and then set a lower expansion fee that the investment world could accept if the league wanted to expand in the future.

But the breach in the wall by Bruckheimer and Bonderman means that Gary Bettman’s brazen gamble paid off. Not only did they accept a $500 million expansion fee, they upped it to $650 million. Bettman has every reason to kiss their rumps. He and his NHL Board are not going to turn down Seattle now, even if the proposed season ticket drive doesn’t get a single client and the new renovated arena is the second smallest in the NHL. Now the investment world will have to accept a higher NHL expansion fee even when the value of any NHL team is not listed in the top 20 sports franchises in North America. Right behind Bettman, the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL have lined up to bestow hugs and kisses on Bruckheimer and Bonderman. If the fourth ranked NHL can get expansion fees like this, imagine what their leagues can get when they announce expansion. MLB has already projected Montreal and Portland as its next teams and a realignment into a brand new structure with 32 teams. The NBA also wants to realign once it gets to 32 teams.

So Seattle is in and don’t think this is the end of NHL expansion. Houston, Quebec, and Hartford are waiting and there are probably more potential teams sitting on the fence. A 40 team NHL, here we come.



3 thoughts on “Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM!

  1. Pingback: Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM! – Rosa Stegman

  2. Emily Kaplan’s ESPN realignment proposal for a 32-team NHL looks awesome. But there are 2 problems: West travel difficulties for Detroit, and the NHL scheduling formula won’t work for 4 large divisions if over 31 teams in the League. Both can be fixed, however.

    With 4 large 8-team divisions, the NHL 82-game scheduling formula is:
    Own division: 7 other teams x 4 games each = 28 games.
    Sister division: 8 other teams x 3 games each = 24 games.
    Other conference: 16 other teams x 2 games each = 32 games. (The idea is for all teams to play in all arenas each year for the fans to see all of the great players in the League)
    That adds up to 84 games, and don’t count on the NHL to add more games. I don’t like very large divisions, but adding more divisions with fewer teams per division, however, allows the formula to work again.

    So, take the ESPN 4 large divisions and split each one in half:
    WESTERN CONFERENCE: (15 West teams & 1 Flex team)
    Northwest Division: Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Seattle
    Pacific Division: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vegas
    Big West Division: Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis
    Midwest Division: Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit (FLEX team)
    EASTERN CONFERENCE: (15 East teams & 1 Flex team)
    Northeast Division: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston
    Metropolitan Division: N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey, Buffalo
    Atlantic Division: Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington
    Southeast Division: Nashville (FLEX team), Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida

    Have the 2 Flex teams Detroit & Nashville play balanced schedules to ease and even out their travels – this also legitimately allows either playoff-qualifying team to be placed into either the East or West playoff brackets as needed to help balance overall bracket strengths.

    12 East or 12 West teams play 14 games w/ 3 other teams in division (5, 5 or 4 games each – rotate/yr.), 33 games w/ all other 11 non-Flex teams in same Conference (3 games each), 5 games w/ 2 Flex teams (2 or 3 games each – rotate/yr.), 30 games w/ all other 15 non-Flex teams in other Conference (2 games each).

    3 East teams in Southeast Div & 3 West teams in Midwest Div play 12 games w/ 3 other teams in own division (4 games each), 10 games w/ all 4 teams in opposite div (Midwest or Southeast) (2 or 3 games each – rotate/yr.), 36 games w/ all other 12 teams in same Conference (3 games each), 24 games w/ all 12 remaining teams in other Conference (2 games each).

    Flex teams Detroit & Nashville play 12 games w/ 3 other teams in division (4 games each), 30 games w/ all 12 other teams in same Conference (2 or 3 games each – rotate/yr.), 40 games w/ all 16 teams in other Conference (2 or 3 games each – rotate/yr.).

    • Thanks for commenting NHL1. Most of these divisions are well thought out. I don’t like large divisions of 8 teams. It is more sensible to have the NHL like you designed it, in an NFL structure which also makes it easier to expand the league further and it is obvious that the NHL plans to go beyond the 32 team limit the NFL has and head for the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division). I don’t really care about how many times who plays who as long as it makes sense and is economical.

      There are a few things where I differ with you. First, there won’t be any “flex” teams. As long as they don’t have to, Detroit will not return to the Western Conference ever, even if it means reuniting with Chicago. In fact what they prefer is that Chicago gets switched from the west to the east. As for Nashville, I can see them in the east like you propose, but more likely in a 40 team NHL, with all the potential new western expansion teams, they would be switched over permanently, not a “flex” team at a later date.

      Second, this new NHL realignment takes no account of the two remaining major problems on Gary Bettman’s plate, Arizona and Quebec City. Like you, when it comes to designing my new realigned NHL, I would have to assume there will be an Arizona Coyotes and place them in my new league. But more likely there won’t be. At the same time, the real reason Quebec doesn’t have a team yet is because the NHL likes the Quebec market and the new arena, but will not tolerate the current bidder who is a pro-separatist, who made public, inappropriate racist remarks about the Montreal Canadiens owner, and has a stack of enemies on the NHL Board. It is doubtful especially with the Coyotes horrible record this season that any public money will be donated for a new downtown Phoenix arena.

      I’ve come up with the theory that what will happen is that once Seattle is formally approved, the NHL will announce expansion to two other western cities (Houston will probably be one of them). This will allow them to keep conference balance by relocating the Coyotes to Quebec and at the same time getting rid of an unsuitable Quebec bidder. I could be wrong but this makes the most sense.

      And that brings me to the third difference I have with you. By all indications, it appears the NHL is probably headed for 40 teams. There are too many other good markets around that have stated they want an NHL franchise under the right conditions. I agree with you 100% that some kind of NHL realignment is coming, preferably in the way you describe. But it is quite possible that when realignment is announced, the league will have more than 32 teams. As noted above, Bettman has to do something about Quebec. And it might be safe to assume that Houston is already a “done deal”. So your 32 team league and the scheduling you have worked out could already be obsolete.

      So assuming that a 32 team NHL will only be temporary, what other 8 cities would you like to see in a 40 team NHL? Remember that the NHL wants balanced conferences. For me, besides Quebec and Houston, a good bet would be a returned Hartford and some kind of second southern Ontario team (say Hamilton). After that I could list about a dozen other cities that would have a reasonable shot at having a successful NHL team. Your proposal is a good one, but there is a good chance it might already be obsolete.

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