Jeff Baker of the Seattle Times was clearly channeling insider whispers, so much so that in this article, he wrote the following:
Local sources have said the league has held discussions with potential ownership groups here about what the fee would be to land an expansion franchise to begin play in the 2015-16 season.
Reports last summer had pegged it at $275 million, but sources now say they expect the price to be somewhere between $200 million and $250 million. Sources have indicated that talks between the NHL and local officials were far enough along that some type of announcement could be made within weeks of the Sochi Olympics concluding.
Fast forward to the present
Just five months later and in contrast to the 90 degree days outside, it now feels as if the expansion temperature has dropped to near-freezing levels. No announcement has been made. The positive buzz has died down. In point of fact, the league has expressly poured cold water on the notion altogether, at least for now. Sadly, the reason cited was the very thing Seattle has struggled with for years now: no shovel-ready new arena. Barring a change of fortunes, there will be no team in Seattle for the upcoming 2014-15 NHL season.
About two months ago, Bettman said the following:
“Until there is some better certainty about a building and its availability to an NHL team,” Bettman said, “there’s really not a whole lot of point in even going further in the thought process.”
Wayne Gretzky to the rescue?Despite the negative turn of events, there are clearly forces behind the scenes still at work.
Despite the departure of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the Chris Hansen arena project is still alive, waiting for an NBA team to become anchor tenant as per the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding. Another unnamed investment group is rumored to be investigating possible sites for a hockey arena in Bellevue, Washington, about sixteen miles away. Other parties have been linked to various alternatives as well.
However, a recent report has linked not just a familiar name to the cause, but perhaps the most powerful name in all of hockey: Wayne Gretzky. According to the New York Post, The Great One is said to be an integral part of a new investment group looking to either establish an expansion franchise in Seattle, or lure an existing team there.
The Post article was relatively brief and lacked specificity, but summarized the situation as follows:
The Gretzky group is one of three looking to bring an NHL franchise to the home of Starbucks, sources said — but each faces an uphill battle in that league Commissioner Gary Bettman has not said the league is ready to expand
When could Seattle get a team?
No matter what activity may be happening behind the scenes, it’s clear there will be no franchise in Seattle for the upcoming 2014-15 season. However, prospects rise considerably after that.
For one, the MOU signed in 2012 has a five-year shelf life, creating a greater sense of urgency as the timeline narrows. Secondly, despite what Bettman has publicly stated, the issue of unbalanced conferences — sixteen Eastern Conference teams to just fourteen in the Western Conference — will need to be addressed. Lastly, there is no question that Seattle is considered a fantastic market for the NHL, and it makes little business sense to eschew opportunities when they arise. Not to mention, of course, about a quarter billion dollars in expansion fees.
Cheer up, Seattle. The NHL is coming to the Emerald City sometime soon. Jeff Baker’s sources may have been off on their timing, but not on their content. We’ll all just need to channel Mother Theresa and remember that patience is indeed a virtue. With the Seattle Mariners in town, that shouldn’t be too hard to do.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.