First of all, it should be acknowledged up front that the NHL, as an entity, has long loved the idea of putting a team in Seattle.
Doing so was investigated several times during the 1990s expansion era and it continued in recent years, including when the Atlanta Thrashers were Winnipeg bound two years ago.
Even then, you heard a ton of talk in league circles that they’d prefer to be going to Seattle, if only there was a proper building available.
And twin reports this past weekend have only added to that line of speculation.
The first was Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman doing some digging and discovering that the Vancouver Canucks weren’t allowed to move their AHL affiliate to Seattle because the league potentially had other plans for Key Arena.
The second was Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn coming out on Sunday and saying he has had recent conversations with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman regarding bringing a team to his city.
“I let him know of the situation here, and that we were supportive of bringing the NHL to Seattle," McGinn said. "We have Key Arena, so we talked about the potential of them being in Key Arena, while we continue to work on a new arena plan.”
None of this should come as a surprise given what’s happening with the Phoenix Coyotes these days.
Both Bettman and Bill Daly basically offered some stern ultimatums to the Glendale city council last week prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, saying it was essentially do or die time to get a lease agreement finished and keep the team.
“It’s up to the City of Glendale to make the decision,” Bettman said at one point. “Ultimately, whether or not this team stays at this point, is their call.”
Those veiled threats to move the team, however, require the NHL to have some real alternatives to keeping the team in Glendale, which is where Seattle comes in.
There are a ton of hurdles involved with putting a team there for next fall. The main one is that Key Arena can really only accommodate 11,000 fans without getting into obstructed view tickets, which are generally worth much, much less.
There’s also the problem of a potential new building still being some four or five years away and that the potential builder of said building (Chris Hansen) continues to be much more interested in getting an NBA team than an NHL one.
“I think there’s an interest, a big interest of hockey coming to this market. From a lot of different people,” Hansen said in a recent radio interview after a deal to relocate the NBA’s Sacramento Kings fell through.
“I think the league, obviously, views it as a great market. I think there’s potential owners that view it as a great market, too. There are some that we’ve had discussions with and we think we would get along with, that are the type of people that we could see ourselves being partners with. But it’s just more complicated; it’s much easier if basketball comes first.”
Here’s the thing though: If basketball does come first, and the NHL is simply a tenant in the new building – and the fourth major league sports franchise in the city of 3.5 million – how successful will this franchise be?
Certainly more than the Coyotes of late – not that that’s a high bar – but they’d quite likely still be collecting revenue sharing in this situation, falling in line with low end teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, etc. in terms of revenue generation.
And that’s even with the new market’s advantages. Seattle has one key thing that those cities don’t and that’s proximity to Canadian ticket buyers, with the league expecting a lot of Canucks fans to make that 185+ kilometre trek south of the border to buy up tickets that would be far cheaper than at Rogers Arena.
In that context, with the team starting out as a low revenue generator and attempting to build up, it could work, especially considering hockey is certainly more native to the Pacific Northwest than many regions the NHL has expanded into.
But those four or five years in an outdated and ill-suited arena would be huge revenue drains, especially with no guarantee a new building was even coming.
That, more than anything, makes a move to Seattle in time for next season seem incredibly unlikely, especially with Hansen and company taking a long-term view of the situation in order to appease the NBA.
So, as with many things surrounding the Coyotes, there aren’t easy answers in Seattle yet either.
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