By Andy Eide
What a day Tuesday turned out to be for the city of Seattle and its hockey fans.
Things began as NHL Seattle’s top line, led by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in the middle with Jeremy Bonderman and Tod Leiweke on her wings, entered the NHL’s New York offices early in the morning, Seattle time. They would emerge almost two hours later with a quiet confidence but without any real news.
Then we waited.
Later in the afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman came down an escalator to announce what everyone in Seattle had been waiting to hear. The NHL Executive Committee was recommending that Seattle be granted an expansion franchise.
Commissioner Bettman update on the Seattle expansion application. pic.twitter.com/lrzDB72BcJ
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 2, 2018
We can’t pop the cork yet, but we can start chilling the champagne.
The NHL will have a formal vote at its winter Board of Governors meeting on December 2nd. The board has never voted against a recommendation from the Executive Committee however so in essence, Seattle has a two-goal lead with under a minute left and an empty net to shoot at.
The NHL is coming.
Back in Seattle, social media erupted as fans – including the 32,000 who placed deposits for season tickets – spent the day distracted from work, relentlessly refreshing their twitter feeds, waiting for the news to break. It was exciting and exhausting. It was also surreal when you consider how long it took to get here and how so many times it felt like the NHL was never going to land in Seattle.
It started back in 1974 when the NHL wanted to bring the Totems into the league, but the owners could not pull the finances together to make it happen. Then again in 1990 it appeared that Seattle was in line to gain an expansion team, but the bid fell apart at the last second.
Key Arena was opened, and it wasn’t hockey friendly – too small and bad sight lines. The WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds played there but eventually moved and it was obvious that without an arena, the NHL would just be a dream.
Getting an arena built in a city that was averse to the idea of a publicly funded project was a major hurdle. It looked like maybe a way in SODO would happen but that too, fell apart. That led to Oak View Group giving the Key another look, they found a way, worked with the city, offered to finance the entire $700 million deal to build a new Seattle Center arena.
When the City Council approved that deal a week ago, the momentum was building like a Connor McDavid rush up the ice. The only thing left was the finish with the NHL.
In the end, it was the mayor who hit the net.
Bettman and Leiweke both commended the job that Durkan did in the room, selling the Executive Committee on the City of Seattle, and its people, its fans. Tuesday, she truly was the team’s first-line center.
“They saw that this isn’t just going to be good for us in Seattle,” Durkan said to the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker. “It’s going to be good for us and the NHL.”
There is still work to do.
Bettman indicated that like the Seattle group, the NHL wants to start in October of 2020. The arena build remains an ambitious undertaking and the agreement with the city stated that the Oak View Group could not start construction until a team was awarded from the league, which is happening on Dec. 2nd. The group in New York Tuesday felt that the announcement from Bettman could be enough to begin prepping for construction and keep them on their tight timeline.
The commissioner also indicated again that Seattle would be granted the same expansion draft rules that the Vegas Golden Knights had, rules that led them to building a Stanley Cup contending roster. However, he added that Vegas will be exempt from having to expose players to Seattle in that draft and will not be getting a cut of the expansion fees.
Soon we will hear about a practice facility and then team names, colors, an American Hockey League team, and staff being hired on.
Wednesday is the start of the 2018-2019 NHL season. The beginning of a new season is an exciting time for fans but this time it feels different.
This time you can start to watch the games knowing that Seattle is part of the league. You can start to watch for players who might be exposed in two years and could potentially play here. You can go to a Seattle Thunderbirds game, or an Everett Silvertips game, and watch for players who will be draft eligible in 2020. What would they look like playing for Seattle?
The fun part is just now beginning, and the dream is now a reality.
Let’s drop the puck.