Seattle was officially granted the NHL’s 32nd franchise on Tuesday, December 4th in a unanimous 31-0 vote. The long-rumored expansion was given the green light after the Board of Governors meeting and is set to hit the ice in the 2021-22 season. While less earth-shattering than the Vegas expansion just a couple of years past, the Emerald City expansion will still shake up the league in many ways.
When is This Going to Happen?
Before anything was official, the new Seattle team was expected to start playing in 2020-21, but that may have proved to be too ambitious. There are two reasons that I say that. The first is that in 2020-21 there is a large chance of at least a partial lock-out. The current CBA is in effect until 2021-22 but both sides have the option to opt out in September 2019, and the following September it will come into effect. While the 1994-95, 2005-06 and 2012-13 seasons where at least party locked out, it is expected to happen again. The writing is on the wall with all the new contracts with crazy high signing bonuses. How crummy would it be for the shiny new team to not even get to play that year? That would not be good for growing a new fanbase. The second reason this distant date is good relates to KeyArena, more on that in a moment.
How is This Going To Happen?
On paper, this will look almost exactly like the Vegas expansion. Although the Vegas Golden Knights had to pay $500 Mil as an entrance fee, Seattle will have to be a much larger $650 Mil fee. Lucky for Vegas, they are exempt from the expansion draft in 2021. But the other 30 teams will get to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender, just like the last time. Players that have no move clauses in their contract must be protected by their club and players that are in their first or second year in the NHL are automatically protected and don’t count towards the totals. Though the same expansion rules are in place for this team, don’t expect it to be as easy for Seattle as it was for Vegas, many GMs have learned some lessons and won’t make the same mistake twice.
This un-named expansion team will play in the currently existing KeyArena that the former NBA Supersonics played in. But by the time the puck is ready to be dropped, the arena will look much different. The Oak View Group is planning a $700 Mil renovation for the arena, almost doubling the square footage from 400,000 square feet to 750,000 and hold will 17,400 fans. The arena will feature the same iconic roof, but almost everything else will be new. The nice part of the later debut season relates to these renovations. As Timothy Leiweke of the Oakview Group said “I think we (now) have a chance to do some things with the arena that we wouldn’t have had a chance to do,” he continued, “In some ways, it could be a blessing in disguise.” according to Eliot Friedman.
Where Will They Fit In?
When Vegas came into the NHL in the 2017-18 season they slotted in nicely to round out the Pacific Division with a nice even 8 teams. Now with Seattle, an obvious choice for the Pacific Division, someone has to move right? Right. As we currently sit, the Metro, Atlantic, and Pacific Divisions have 8 teams, the Central only has 7. As we all expected The Arizona Coyotes will be the poor team to fall on that sword.
Arizona is the team farthest east geographically so it makes the most sense to move them into the already smaller Central Division. The downside to that? Arizona is a team that has been perpetually near the bottom of the standings for all of recent memory, and are now moving into what might currently be the toughest division in the NHL. That is a tough draw. Who knows, maybe soon enough they will relocate to Huston as many
hope speculate and the Colorado Avalanche will join the Pacific.
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman said in a pre-conference “We thought that it made the absolute most sense on a whole host of levels, geographic rivalries among the other teams in the Pacific, the fact that for most of the season Arizona is on Mountain Time, not Pacific Time, so in terms of the way broadcasts and the like, when you look at the matrix of scheduling, the difference between being in the same conference in a division, it doesn’t mean there will be a whole lot more travel,”
Personally, I think this the best option for the NHL, I am sure most agree. It doesn’t make any sense to break up the Albertan teams who are the other logical choices for realignment based on geography. This addition to the league rounds out every conference at 8 for a total of 32 teams. Exactly half the league will play in the playoffs, all is mathematically perfect. Now all we have to do is work on getting teams to better markets (cough Carolina Hurricanes should be the Quebec Nordiques cough)
How Will They Fit In?
Every sports fan’s favorite thing about the games they watch is passion, hockey is no different. Passion is at its highest when there are emotions, and if your Torts, there is hate. Many are hoping to see a rivalry between the Vancouver Canucks and this new Pacific North Western team. There is already friendly banter between people on Twitter and even really bad trash talk between politicians. Though rivalries have to grow naturally and can’t be forced, for the first time in what seems like ages, Vancouver might have a 2 way rivalry with a team in their division. There were battles between Vancouver and Calgary. But Calgary is, of course, more worried about Edmonton. What is the hate equivalent of the friend zone? Because that’s where Vancouver was with this division. The California teams hate each other and have left Vancouver and Arizona the odd ones out. Nothing really developed between the two, except for intense races to the bottom of the league.
Fans of Vancouver are also excited. Now the market has another team in driving distance. While Seattle is about 2.5 hours drive, its close enough for a weekend getaway or even a day trip to support your team in an away market. The current closest team is 10-11 hour drive from Vancouver over the Rockies to Calgary. Tack a couple more hours on to get to Edmonton, and if you wanna head south to San Jose, you’re looking at about 17 hours of driving. With a team in Seattle, it gives Vancouver fans the chance to see out of market NHL games, NFL, and MLB that Vancouver also doesn’t have. There are also rumblings Seattle getting an NBA team back. Seattle will turn into the sports fans dream boys weekend destination for a bro on a budget.
What Will They Be Called?
Seattle’s last team to win the Stanley Cup was in 1917 (yes they have won the Stanley Cup) and they were called the Seattle Metropolitans. Unfortunately, that name doesn’t seem to be gaining much traction. The Metropolitans are likely a stretch because the Metropolitan Division already took that name. While we don’t know what the name will be, we have some clues. The Oak View Group has trademarked 13 names. Odds are, the name is in the mix here.
• Sea Lions
The front-runners with fans are usually Kraken or Totems. Some people still hold out hope for the Metropolitans, and others are going way off the board with the Seattle Sockeye, Grunge or even taking the name of the former NBA team with the Seattle Sonics.
There are lots of questions still to be answered, and many more will surely come up. All I know is that I am excited. I am from the Vancouver area and I am already planning my road trip to see the home opener in Seattle.