The NHL will add a 32nd franchise in Seattle, the league announced Tuesday, following a unanimous vote by the Board of Governors. The as yet unnamed franchise will be Seattle’s first winter sports team since the NBA’s SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.
Speaking of “as yet unnamed,” you’ve probably got a lot of questions about the new team, and we’re here to answer them!
When are they going to start playing?
The 2021-22 season. Seattle’s ownership group initially targeted a 2020 entry, but the league had reservations about whether that might rush the $700 million renovations to downtown Key Arena, and instead, pushed the entry date a year later.
It’s probably a smart move. Considering the Vegas Golden Knights‘ smashing success in their inaugural season, the NHL understands the importance of first impressions and wants Seattle to be able to get it right. The extra year will ensure the arena is good to go from the start of the season, and also means they’ll have time to get the practice facility up and running (the group has settled on a location near the Northgate Mall).
What’s the team name going to be?
We’ll have to wait and see! Team president and CEO Tod Leiweke commented during the press conference that the organization will “take our time” with the decision. Earlier in the year, a counsel at the Oak View Group (which is interlinked with the Seattle ownership group and is overseeing the Key Arena renovations) applied for 38 domains representing 13 potential team names. They include:
Seattle Cougars, Seattle Eagles, Seattle Emeralds, Seattle Evergreens, Seattle Firebirds, Seattle Kraken, Seattle Rainiers, Seattle Renegades, Seattle Sea Lions, Seattle Seals, Seattle Sockeyes, Seattle Totems, Seattle Whales
That doesn’t mean that the future team name is on the list, but it sure left us wanting to know more. Notably missing from that list is the Seattle Metropolitans, which has historical significance: the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans were actually the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup, in 1917, when they dispatched the defending champions, the National Hockey Association’s Montreal Canadiens.
In September, I polled several high profile players of what the team name and color scheme should be. The answers were not terribly creative, with Auston Matthews, Seth Jones, John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan Johansen selecting the SuperSonics because, as MacKinnon explained “they don’t have a basketball team anymore.” Most players also endorsed a Seattle Seahawks-esque neon accented color scheme. Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov was a bit more imaginative: “I would like some blue probably, like light blue color. There are too many dark colors in the league. You need something else. Gold color, something like that.”
Colleague Paul Lukas ran a Uni Watch design contest for the new team name, logo, color scheme and uniforms, for those looking for some other imaginative ideas.
Will they use the same expansion draft rules as Vegas?
Yes, exactly the same. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated several times that the new Seattle franchise will benefit from the same expansion draft rules that the Golden Knights used. Even after Vegas made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, Bettman said in May that he had received “no pushback whatsoever” from other league owners about repeating the same process for Seattle.
Who is involved with the Seattle team and when are they building out the staff?
There are nearly 30 members in the ownership group. The No. 1 majority owner is investment banker David Bonderman. Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer is right behind him. Tim Leiweke, a former Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs executive, also has a stake. Leiweke’s brother, Tod, is the team’s CEO. Tod Leiweke most recently served as the NFL’s COO before he resigned in March to join his brothers company.
As of now, the only hockey operations person on staff is Dave Tippett, the former Coyotes coach, who was brought on as a senior advisor over the summer. Don’t be surprised if the team hires a GM as early as this spring. Since the start date was pushed back a season, there’s no real rush in hiring a coach, so they might wait for the right candidate to emerge.
How is the NHL going to re-align to accommodate another team in the Pacific?
It’s an easy solution, really. The Coyotes will be put in the Central Division, starting in the 2021-22 season. The Coyotes have been made aware of the arrangement for some time.
The NHL really tried to play up a Vegas/Arizona rivalry with the Golden Knights’ induction — the concept? Both teams are in the desert! — though it never really stuck. As one team owner told me, the NHL puts too much emphasis on city-versus-city rivalries and instead should be promoting its players (and player-on-player rivalries). Hey, considering how the Blackhawks and Coyotes have become favorite trading partners of late, this actually makes a lot of sense! Get ready for the Nick Schmaltz, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Richard Panik, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Connor Murphy, Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini revenge series, y’all (assuming all players are sticking around with their current teams that long).
What’s next for NHL expansion?
With the league now rounded out at 32 teams, expansion is likely done for the near term.
That said, relocation opportunities loom. The most attractive city as of now is Houston. There’s already interest from a potential owner in Tilman Fertitta, who purchased the Houston Rockets in September for a reported $2.2 billion. Fertitta met with Gary Bettman this fall, though it was more of an informal, “get to know you and trade notes” kind of session. But Houston already has a hockey-amenable arena that sits 17,000-plus, the Toyota Center. As the league tries to grow its imprint in the U.S., Houston’s diversity, as well as its sheer size as a top-10 market, are incredibly attractive.