Will The NHL Beat The NBA Back To Seattle?

Mar 7, 2014

Could Seattle get a professional hockey team before professional men’s basketball returns to the city? Speculation has ramped up recently, and KPLU sports commentator says there are reasons for that.

Time Is Right

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this week that there's a lot of interest about hockey expanding to Seattle. This comes a few weeks after the NHL's deputy commissioner told The Seattle Times that Seattle would be a good hockey market.

The NHL last expanded in 2000 when Minnesota and Columbus entered the league.

"The league has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, making two adds in the West logical," Art said.

Art says the NHL has reached a level of financial health and strength to the point where they can consider expansion.

"They’ve let it leak out that a letter of intent is coming from the league to prospective owners interested in taking on an expansion franchise. They have been contacted by three different groups in Seattle," he said.

Who Would Bid?

Among the possible bidders to pay the NHL's $300 million+ expansion fee is reported to be retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is a partner with Seattle native and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen in the proposed Sodo arena project. 

Other interested parties include Chicago minor-league hockey owner Don Levin and New York investment banker Ray Bartoszek, who last summer attempted to buy the Phoenix Coyotes with intent of moving the team to Seattle.

NHL Before NBA?

"The NHL has TV contracts and other revenues coming in from a greater popularity for the sport that they think makes the time right to expand now, Art said. "Their big agenda is to get to Seattle first. They want to beat the NBA here. The NBA has 41 years of history in Seattle. The NHL hasn’t been here in a very long time. The idea is that if you’re here first, you’re not going to be the little brother getting the hand-me-down clothes from the big brother.” He's referring to things like game scheduling in a shared arena.

Arena Project: Team Needed

Art says arena developer Chris Hansen needs momentum to move his proposed Sodo arena forward.

"The trigger event in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is the acquisition of a team," Art said. "Right now, it says NBA but that MOU can be rewritten to say the NHL can be first. They need one team – they don’t need both – to begin the project and get construction funds provided.”

“The Sodo project hasn’t moved, in part, because there’s an Environmental Impact Statement that must be released before it goes forward. And that may be subject to litigation," Art said. "But nothing will happen unless Hansen gets a commitment from the NHL to expand to Seattle.”

Another Battle Looming?

Art says the NHL would likely expand into two markets. If Seattle is in the running, it means another battle like we saw last year for the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

“Because there are more than two cities that are interested in an NHL franchise, they are going to pit them against one another — somewhat in the fashion that Sacramento and Seattle were pitted against each other in the fight for the Kings last year — a very unpleasant and sordid affair," Art said. "I think a lot of people are burned out from the NBA and are a little more open-minded toward the NHL.”

Seattle's Hockey Past

Sports history fans know that Seattle already has a Stanley Cup win — from a long, long time ago.

“The Seattle Metropolitans triumphed in 1917," Art pointed out. "If you ever get a chance to look at the Cup, you’ll see Seattle on it. It is part of the substantial history of the National Hockey League.”

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.