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Seattle Is Awarded an N.H.L. Expansion Team

Category: Hockey,Sports

The National Hockey League’s board of governors has unanimously approved a new franchise in Seattle, putting the league’s 32nd team in one of the country’s wealthiest and fastest-growing cities.

The still-unnamed team in Seattle arrives less than three years after the league awarded a new team to Las Vegas, whose inaugural 2017-18 season was a smashing success.

The Seattle franchise is expected to begin playing in the 2021-22 season. The league will receive an expansion fee of $650 million, which will be split among every other team, except the Vegas Golden Knights.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said after the vote that the new franchise had the “three pillars” for success in the league: “Terrific and committed ownership, a thriving market and a state of the art venue.”

The team hoped to start play one season earlier, but Bettman said “the certainty over the construction timeline, or the lack of certainty, led us to believe that making the start of the 2021 season would be speculative at best and unlikely at worst.”

Seattle adds another team to the Western Conference, which will now have the same number of clubs — 16 — as the Eastern Conference. Seattle’s team also will have an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, who play about three hours by car to the north. To make room for Seattle, the Arizona Coyotes will move from the Pacific Division to the Central Division.

Investors in Seattle had sought a new N.B.A. team to replace the SuperSonics, who moved to Oklahoma City after the 2008 season. Plans to build a new arena in Seattle fell apart repeatedly. Instead, the city landed a hockey team in part because its City Council in September approved a $700 million plan to refurbish KeyArena, just north of downtown.

Tod Leiweke, the team’s president, said the team would break ground on the arena, which will have 17,000 seats, on Wednesday.

“It will be one of the finest arenas in the world,” he said.

Enthusiasm is running high. Well before the league made clear it would put a team in Seattle, more than 33,000 fans placed deposits for season tickets, leading the ownership group to create a waiting list.

That group is led by David Bonderman, a billionaire investment banker; Jerry Bruckheimer, the Hollywood producer; and Tim Leiweke, a longtime sports executive. They said in February that they hoped to bring an N.B.A. franchise back to Seattle, as well.

The effort to get an N.H.L. team has gone on several years, though the league insisted Seattle would not be considered until it had a viable arena.

The N.H.L. is attracted to Seattle’s growing stature. The region is home to corporate giants like Amazon and Microsoft, and the Pacific Northwest is a relatively untapped area for the N.H.L.

In a quirk of history, the first American team to win the Stanley Cup came from Seattle.

The Seattle Metropolitans, founded by Frank and Lester Patrick, played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. At the time, the winner of the P.C.H.A. played the winner of the National Hockey Association, the precursor to the N.H.L., for the Stanley Cup. In 1917, the Metropolitans beat the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five series.

The Metropolitans again played for the Cup in 1919 and 1920 before folding in 1924.

Since then, Seattle has had multiple minor league and junior hockey teams, including the Thunderbirds of Western Hockey League, who play in Kent, Wash.

Seattle was awarded an N.H.L. franchise in 1974, but the offer was rescinded because the ownership group ran into financial troubles. Another bid fell through in 1990.

Now that the N.H.L. has awarded Seattle a team, the ownership group must start work on the redevelopment of the arena, open a practice facility and hire front-office employees and a coach. A team nickname must be chosen, and tickets sold.

“We’re going to take our time,” Tod Leiweke said. “We’re going to listen to our fans and do it right.”

The league will hold an expansion draft in June 2021, and the rules will be the same as those for the draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights will not lose a player in the upcoming expansion draft.

Generous rules enabled the Knights to acquire top-level talent, which propelled them to the Stanley Cup finals in their first season.

Bettman said Tuesday that “we’re not looking right now and I think for the foreseeable future any further at any further expansion.” That could keep Quebec City, which has been angling for a team, out of the league, at least for now.


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