Seattle’s NHL expansion team has its roots in Dave Tippett’s computer.
That’s where the long-time coach-turned-senior adviser keeps a running list of players around the league who might be available in an expansion draft that is still 2 1/2 years off. It is just an exercise for now, but will become a key building block when Seattle picks its first players in June, 2021.
“Every year it’ll change a little bit,” Tippett said. “By the time it gets here, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where you think teams are going to fall.”
Long months are ahead before the as-yet-unnamed team plays its first game, but work is already under way and the effort can begin in earnest now that the NHL board of governors has officially awarded Seattle a franchise. Groundbreaking on a total overhaul of KeyArena is Wednesday, and Seattle’s front office will spend the rest of this season plotting the course for an organization that has a tough act to follow after the Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
“Part of the DNA of this ownership group is we’re extremely competitive,” said Tod Leiweke, a minority partner, president and chief executive of Seattle Hockey Partners. “We’re here to win. And we want to win. So we’re going to look at these timelines and how it can be put to our advantage.”
That means Tippett will watch the rest of this season with an eye on the new team’s future and he will sketch out the beginnings of a hockey operations department. He will likely be senior vice-president of hockey operations and have a big say in choosing the first general manager of the league’s 32nd team.
Tippett will likely hire some scouts this summer and move forward on the GM search.
“When you’re a year or two out, everything continues to evolve,” Tippett said. “You continue to monitor things. It’s an ever-changing world out there right now in the hockey world between coaches and GMs.”
Veteran Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland is considered a potential candidate, and Vegas assistant Kelly McCrimmon would know the recipe for a successful expansion draft after helping George McPhee put the Golden Knights together. The same rules will be in place that allow teams to protect only seven forwards, three defencemen and a goaltender, or eight skaters at any position and a goaltender.
That means that for US$650-million, Seattle will have an opportunity to win right away.
“It gives you an excitement that you can have a team that’s not your expansion teams of the past with the NHL rules,” Tippett said. “You can have a competitive team like Vegas. Nobody expected that from them. But it’s not as if you’re in a five-year rebuild or five-year starting point. You actually can get some good players because of the rules.”
Leiweke is friends with McPhee and Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz and said his new team will build “brick by brick” as Vegas did.
First, there are real bricks. Majority owner David Bonderman said the immediate focus is on getting arena renovations and three-rink practice facility construction completed. Leiweke expects the 17,000-seat downtown arena to open in March or April, 2021, and host the expansion draft.
Tippett has a hand in all those projects and is also working to settle Seattle’s American Hockey League affiliate.
And he and the ownership group will, at some point, go on a hiring spree to try to replicate Vegas’ success.
“We have momentum, and this is a business of recruitment,” Leiweke said. “We now really feel confident that we’ll be able to recruit a top-flight staff. And we need to, because this is the most competitive league in the world, and parity is the trademark of the National Hockey League today. So we’re going to have to be really, really good at recruiting, but our owners are going to give us everything we need.”