By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – The Sea Island resort in Georgia is about as far away, geographically and culturally, from Seattle as possible. But it’s a location that is now part of Seattle’s sports history.
It will forever be the spot where National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league had officially awarded Seattle an expansion team.
Seattle is now an NHL city.
NHL Board of Governors Press Conference https://t.co/jnh9CmiUfw
— NHL (@NHL) December 4, 2018
The announcement came at 9 am pacific time and thousands of miles away, at Henry’s Tavern in South Lake Union, it was received with boisterous cheers from hundreds of local hockey fans.
The fans started lining up outside Henry’s, in the dark and cold morning at 6:30 ready to celebrate the news that seemed inevitable.
“It’s incredible,” NHL Seattle Senior Advisor Dave Tippett said. “True hockey fans here, this is it. 8 o’clock in the morning, this is the way it should be.”
Just before the announcement, the din at Henry’s died down and the volume on the bank of televisions was turned up as Bettman took the podium in Georgia.
Bettman announced that the league had unanimously voted to award Seattle a franchise that would begin play in the 2021-2022 season. That announcement was a change from the 2020 start date the NHL Seattle, and the NHL had previously shot for. The giant remodel of the Seattle Center Arena, likely won’t be ready to open until November of 2020, a month after the NHL season starts and pushing back a year will allow for a proper launch of the franchise.
As Bettman spoke the crowd at Henry’s erupted in cheers, as if a big goal had just been scored.
“I was pretty calm because I had anticipated where this was going but I have to say, when he made the announcement I was surprised by the adrenaline rush I got,” NHL Seattle’s Lance Lopes said. “I truly was surprised and just a swelling of pride by how this community has come to the front, it feels great.”
There was hugging, tears, and high fives all around among the fans and NHL Seattle staff.
Many fans had signs and one in particular called for the name of the franchise to be the ‘Seattle Kraken’.
“I already got my season tickets and I’m going to try to go to every game,” Kraken fan Max Rubin said. “I love hockey, it is so much fun to watch and I’m glad that I’ll have a team to root for every night. ‘Kraken’, I felt was the best of the names and could really get people dressing up and screaming fun cheers in the stadium.”
With the start date set for the 2021 season, there is still a ton of work for the NHL Seattle group to accomplish.
“Now we’re going to sit down and really figure out how best to engage with our fans,” Lopes said. “Until now the NHL has really not allowed us to do that. They’ve told us we don’t really have a franchise and asked us to lay low. Starting tomorrow we’re going to start that dialogue with our fans. And that’s going to involve all kinds of things. Talking about the names and how we seat people.
“We’re excited to start to think about what the relationship looks like and how we engage with our fans.”
Along with the award of the franchise, Bettman also announced that Seattle would in fact get the same expansion draft rules that the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league with. The Seattle expansion draft will be held in June of 2021. The Golden Knights will be exempt from that draft.
Also, the league will be making a slight realignment of its divisions with Seattle’s entry. Seattle will play in the Pacific Division, which will allow for regional rivalries with the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. To accommodate this, the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central Division which will give the NHL four equal divisions.
After a decade of arena politics, near starts, and near misses, the NHL is finally on its way to the Emerald City.
No longer will hockey fans have to wonder, or hope, that the league would expand to the Northwest. No more City Council meetings, no referendums or law suits to worry about any more.
Now, the fun stuff can start.
Now, the speculation can turn to team names, colors and logos. There will also be hires. A general manager, then a coach. A training facility at Northgate will start to be built, and soon a cadre of players to cut into the ice as they lean in on their blades.
“We’ve had the feeling all along we’re in good shape to get the franchise but until you actually get it there’s always that open ended part of it,” Tippett added. “Today we finally get the true stamp that you’re in. There’s still lots of work yet to go but it’s an exciting day.”
Seattle is on its way. Seattle is a hockey town.