Seattle & Golden Knights – Comparing the Expansions a Year In

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Seattle officially being awarded an expansion franchise. The still yet to be named team has gone through a lot of development in its first year, much like their expansion brethren, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Even if Vegas entered the league a few years before Seattle, they were both awarded franchises from the same expansion process of applications from the NHL, so for that reason, we’ll consider them the imperfect term of expansion brethren. Now, it should be noted that Seattle will have significantly more time to build their team than Vegas did.

Seattle franchise owners Jerry Bruckheimer Tod Leiweke
NHL Seattle franchise owners Jerry Bruckheimer and Tod Leiweke, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vegas surprised the entire hockey world by being a lot better a lot quicker than anyone expected. Seattle sure has lofty expectations to live up to. Nobody is expecting them to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year like the Golden Knights did, but being basement dwellers like expansion teams of the past isn’t acceptable.

Seattle still has a year before they take the ice. How are they comparing with the Golden Knights so far in the expansion process? Let’s take a look:

Hiring a General Manager

Seattle took care of their main front office hire in bringing Ron Francis aboard in July 2019. It took Seattle roughly eight months to find their inaugural general manager. It only took the Golden Knights a month to hire George McPhee as their inaugural general manager, doing so in July 2016.

Ron Francis Seattle
Ron Francis is presented with a hockey jersey by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, left, as Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke looks on (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It’s also worth noting that Vegas was awarded a team in June 2016, with the team’s inaugural season being the 2017-18 season, giving them just over a year to build their franchise. Seattle’s franchise was awarded in Dec. 2018 and the team will begin play during the 2021-22 season, giving them twice as much time. In an Oct. 2019 piece, Francis’ assistant general manager Ricky Olczyk the extra time is their greatest asset:

“What’s the most precious commodity we have right now? Time,’ Olczyk said. “Take advantage of it.”

Since Francis is a Hall of Famer with a lengthy hockey resume, his hiring was met with acclaim. However, over the past few weeks, as the Bill Peters scandal continued to grow, Francis’s name has been associated with a problem Seattle wants nothing to do with. How he handled allegations against Peters when they were together with the Carolina Hurricanes have come into question, sometimes conflicting previous reports from players and ownership (from “NHL Seattle’s Ron Francis comes under heavy criticism for his handling of Carolina Hurricanes player abuse”, Seattle Times, 12/2/2019).

Finding an AHL Team

Seattle’s main farm team will be the expansion American Hockey League team awarded to Palm Springs, California. The new AHL team shares a number of things with their Seattle NHL team. For one, the Palm Springs team remains unnamed. Secondly, their home arena is still under construction. And third, they will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

David Andrews, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Hockey League (AHL) (Tony Androckitis/Highland Park Hockey)

To take care of their AHL partnership, the Golden Knights affiliated themselves with the existing Chicago Wolves in May 2017. Since then the amount of AHL teams has mirrored the amount of NHL teams at 31. The addition of the 32nd NHL team in Seattle made the addition of a 32nd AHL team practical.

The Palm Springs AHL Team follows a trend of AHL teams being owned by their NHL counterparts, as Palm Springs and Seattle share the same ownership group in Seattle Hockey Partners. Having the main farm team on the West Coast makes travel logistics easier for players getting called up. Vegas’ relationship with Chicago doesn’t afford such a luxury.

Finding an Arena

Seattle’s arena is still a work in progress. Compare that to Vegas’s home rink where T-Mobile Arena opened prior to the team’s first season. T-Mobile Arena broke ground back in 2014, with an official grand opening in April of 2016, just months before the expansion team became official.

KeyArena Seattle NHL
Artist Rendering of renovated KeyArena in Seattle Washington. (Photo – Office of the Mayor, Seattle, WA)

Seattle’s is a mix of the old and a mix of the new. The old KeyArena, former home of the since relocated Settle SuperSonics, will have its iconic roof saved to be incorporated into the new structure. The arena itself, and all its facilities will be entirely new under the same old roof. The unique mix of renovation and construction isn’t expected to be completed until 2021.

What’s Still to Come

Well over a year into the process, it’s still surprising to see the team nameless and lacking an identity. Team CEO Tod Leiweke set a target date for the reveal of the team nickname in January to coincide with the NHL All-Star Game. Yes, he meant just the nickname and not the team’s full official name. Since Leiweke specified just the team’s nickname, one would assume an “official” name is coming at a later date.

Las Vegas Expansion, NHL, Hockey, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas Jersey
Grand opening of the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, April 6, 2016

That strikes two interesting comparisons with the Golden Knights. The Golden Knights held a huge reveal party to announce their team name, colors, and logo in Nov. 2016. Seattle is seemingly choosing an incremental approach, only revealing a little bit at a time to build up fan interest and anticipation. By doing so they miss the chance to hold a team event for fans in their community. After all, Vegas’ big reveal was attended by over 5,000 fans (from ‘NHL expansion team gets a name: Vegas Golden Knights’, USA Today, 11/22/2016).

Even if Seattle doesn’t want to throw a party, revealing their nickname during the All-Star Game might be an interesting move. The All-Star Game is one of the NHL’s premier regular-season events. There are very few times all eyes in the hockey world will be focused on one place to focus their media coverage.

The big event Seattle hockey fans are most looking forward to is the Expansion Draft. But they’ll have to remain patient, as the expansion draft isn’t scheduled to take place until summer 2021, still well over a year away. The 2021 Expansion Draft will follow the same rules the Golden Knights played by in their 2017 Expansion Draft, but the Golden Knights will be exempt from losing any players. Until then, fans will be left speculating who will comprise the inaugural Seattle roster, and we’ll all be speculating with them.