Excitement brewing for NHL expansion team in Seattle
Everywhere longtime NHL coach Dave Tippett goes in Seattle, people ask him two questions.
“One, ‘What’s the name going to be?’ And two, ‘Where do I get my tickets?'” Tippett said.
The more immediate question is when — not if — an NHL expansion team is coming to Seattle as the league’s 32nd franchise and first in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The prospective owners will make their pitch to an executive committee of owners in New York on Tuesday with a vote by the full Board of Governors possible as early as December. It is a virtual certainty the puck drops in Seattle two or three years from now.
Seattle’s pursuit of an NHL team is led by an ownership group featuring Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and it includes a successful deal to renovate downtown’s KeyArena. Fan interest is a given, with 10,000 season tickets selling out in 12 minutes and 32,000 total deposits secured. On the heels of Las Vegas hitting it big with the Golden Knights in a city that had no history of major professional sports, excitement is brewing for the potential of bringing NHL hockey to the Emerald City.
“I talked to a lot of people out there and they want this team,” said Capitals winger T.J. Oshie, who grew up outside Seattle. “It’d be great for the area. I think fans there are very devoted to their sports teams. That’s going to be pretty cool not having the family have to drive up to Vancouver to see me every year.”
For decades, the 2½-hour drive to Vancouver has been the only chance for the people of Seattle to see the NHL up close. The Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips of the Canadian major junior Western Hockey League have a presence in the area, and before that, the Totems played minor-league games there from 1944-1974.
From a pro standpoint it has been almost a century since the 1917 Stanley Cup-winning Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association folded. Seattle has been without the NBA since the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008, leaving it as the biggest American market without a major professional winter sports team.
“We turn out for our teams, and we love the grit that comes with hockey,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “We have some of the most innovative companies in the world, and so we’re continuing to grow and build a whole range of innovating leaders and wealth. But at the same time, we have that old, middle-class, ‘let’s go mix it up’ point of view, and that’s hockey.”
Seattle as a sports town is unquestioned based on the support for the Seahawks of the NFL, Mariners of Major League Baseball, Sounders FC of Major League Soccer and the champion Storm of the WNBA. Tippett, now an adviser for Seattle Hockey Partners LLC after coaching the Stars and Coyotes for 14 seasons, knows all about that because his daughter, son-in-law and his “sports-crazed” grandchildren call Seattle home.
“It’s incredible the passion of the sports people here,” Tippett said. “It’s built into the community.”
Hockey, too? Tippett said there are roughly 140 adult hockey teams in Seattle, a major difference from when Tom Bissett grew up there in the 1970s.
There weren’t many rinks in the city when Bissett followed his older brothers into organized hockey and helped win two national titles by beating established teams like Detroit’s Little Caesars.
“It was kind of a, ‘Who are these guys from Seattle?’ type of thing,” Bissett said.
Bissett looked forward to trips up Interstate 5 to Vancouver to see NHL games with heroes like Totems alum Bobby Schmautz. Bissett made it, too, skating in five games with the Red Wings in 1991 as the only Seattle-born player to appear in an NHL game. It’s an honor that makes Bissett dream of attending games in his hometown.
“It would be a bucket list thing for me,” said Bissett, who now works in insurance and coaches high school hockey in Michigan. “To have that now in the local town where I was born in the Swedish hospital in downtown Seattle, I just think it would be awesome.”
The NHL seems to be on board. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has been intrigued about the concept of a franchise in Seattle and found no concerns or red flags about the market.
Bruckheimer, majority owner David Bonderman and brothers Tim and Tod Leiweke — the CEO and team president — have spent significant time making sure of that. While the return of the NBA was for many years the focus of potential owners, the Seattle Hockey Partners made the NHL the first order of business and put the arena piece in place to make it possible.
“This is going to happen,” Tim Leiweke said. “This is now about greatness. … It’s about the NHL and doing something that is spectacular.”
While the Board of Governors could vote to approve a Seattle franchise in early December and set off a domino effect of moves to begin putting together a hockey team, the celebration hasn’t begun yet.
“You have a mindset of the timeframe, but we’re working hard to assure everything is done properly to give us the best chance to get a franchise,” Tippett said. “Nobody’s jumping up and down here saying, ‘We have it’ yet. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Still, Durkan already senses something spectacular happening after the City Council voted 8-0 for the arena plan and after people lined up around the block to see the Stanley Cup in August.
“I think Seattle is going to be probably one of, if not the premier, NHL hockey towns,” Durkan said. “There is a fervor here. Winter is coming.”
As one of a handful of players from Washington State, including Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson, Edmonton’s Kailer Yamamoto and Calgary’s Derek Ryan, playing in Seattle would represent a special milestone for Oshie.
“All those kids that are in the youth rinks around there, that was me I guess a long time ago now,” Oshie said. “It would mean a lot to me and to my family to go back to where it all started.”