It’s unanimous: Seattle gets NHL expansion team

NHL

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — The NHL will add a 32nd franchise in Seattle, the league announced Tuesday, following a unanimous vote by the Board of Governors.

The Seattle franchise will enter the league for the 2021-22 season as a member of the Pacific Division. That will trigger a realignment that will send the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. The cost for league entry will be $650 million, up 30 percent from the $500 million paid by the Vegas Golden Knights to enter the NHL last season.

Seattle’s ownership group had expressed a desire to enter the league in 2020, but the league had reservations about whether that might rush the $700 million renovations to downtown KeyArena, and instead, pushed the entry date a year later.

Seattle, the 18th largest city in the United States, has not had a winter sports team since the NBA’s SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. The Sonics also played in KeyArena. The WNBA’s Seattle Storm are one of the current tenants of the arena, but will temporarily relocate for the 2019 season as the building undergoes renovations.

Seattle’s ownership group sent a strong contingent to Georgia for the Board of Governors meetings, including majority owner David Bonderman, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke, who most recently worked as the NFL’s COO before he resigned in March 2018.

Tuesday’s vote ended what had become a months-long inevitability. In March, the Seattle ownership group launched a season-ticket drive and said it reached 25,000 deposits within the first hour. That exceeds the goal of 10,000 deposits — which was reached in the first 12 minutes.

For context, the Golden Knights ran a season-ticket drive in 2015 and received 5,000 deposits in the first two days.

In October, the Seattle ownership group and Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan made a two-hour presentation to the NHL executive committee in New York. The committee voted 9-0 to recommend and forward the bid to the league’s full Board of Governors.

The Seattle group already has paid a $10 million deposit to the league, along with its official application.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said several times that a Seattle franchise will benefit from the same expansion draft rules used by the Golden Knights. 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.

“I think clubs have learned a lot,” Bettman said at a press conference before the Stanley Cup Final began in Las Vegas. “We needed to make the team more competitive. … This was the first expansion in the salary cap era as we afford all of our clubs an opportunity to be competitive, it wouldn’t make any sense to not have the expansion team the same way.”

The Golden Knights had hoped to become the first expansion team in the NHL, MLB, NBA or NFL to win a championship in its inaugural season since the 1950 Cleveland Browns. The Washington Capitals eventually won the series 4-1.

The addition of Seattle likely ends the NHL’s expansion for the short-term. However some cities, most attractively Houston, remain as possible relocation sites.

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