The NHL will add a franchise in Seattle, the league announced Tuesday, following a unanimous vote by the board of governors. The league's 32nd team will play in the Pacific Division and will be Seattle's first winter sports franchise since the NBA's SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.
You probably have a lot of questions about the new team, and we're here to answer them:
When will the team start playing?
The 2021-22 season. Seattle's ownership group initially targeted a 2020 entry, but the league had reservations about whether that might rush the renovation to KeyArena and instead pushed the entry date a year later.
It's probably a smart move. Considering the Vegas Golden Knights' smashing success in their inaugural season, the NHL understands the importance of first impressions and wants Seattle to be able to get it right. The extra year will ensure that the arena is good to go from the start of the season, and it means they'll have time to get the practice facility up and running (the group has settled on a location near the Northgate Mall).
The budget for the renovations has reached $800 million, and the group will officially break ground on Wednesday. One of the major tenants in the building is the WNBA's Seattle Storm. While the Storm are temporarily relocating for the 2019 season, Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke says the hope is for the arena to be ready for the Storm to return in spring 2020.
What's the team name going to be?
We'll have to wait and see! Leiweke said "we're going to take our time," and they don't feel "time pressure." Seattle's COO, Victor de Bonis, told the ESPN On Ice podcast this week, "It's like anything. If you put the time in, and you think through it properly, you listen to the fans of what they feel is important to them with their team, and you line those things up and do the right amount of work, you'll pick the right name. And it might not feel like the right name when it comes out, but as it evolves, and over time, and when the puck drops that first game ... we've failed if you're not excited about the entire situation with that team."
Earlier in the year, counsel at the Oak View Group (which is interlinked with the Seattle ownership group and is overseeing the KeyArena renovations) applied for 38 domains representing 13 potential team names:
Seattle Sea Lions
That doesn't mean the future team name is on the list, but it sure left us wanting to know more. Notably missing from that list is the Seattle Metropolitans, which has historical significance: The Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Seattle Metropolitans were the first United States team to win the Stanley Cup, in 1917, when they dispatched the defending champions, the National Hockey Association's Montreal Canadiens.
In September, I polled several high-profile players on what the Seattle team name and color scheme should be. The answers were not terribly creative, with Auston Matthews, Seth Jones, John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan Johansen selecting the SuperSonics because, as MacKinnon explained, "They don't have a basketball team anymore."
Most players also endorsed a Seattle Seahawks-esque, neon-accented color scheme. Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov was a bit more imaginative: "I would like some blue probably, like light blue color. There are too many dark colors in the league. You need something else. Gold color, something like that."
Capitals winger T.J. Oshie, who was raised in Everett, Washington, advocated for the Totems. "There's a history there, with the Totems," he said. "My youth coach went on to create a junior team there called the Totems. When you drive around, even if you're not on a reservation, you see totems there. So I think it's something that's pretty native to the area."
Colleague Paul Lukas ran a Uni Watch design contest for the new team name, logo, color scheme and uniforms -- for those looking for some other imaginative ideas.
Will they use the same expansion draft rules as Vegas?
Yes, exactly the same. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated several times that the new Seattle franchise will benefit from the same expansion draft rules that the Golden Knights used. Even after Vegas made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final during its inaugural season, Bettman said in May that he had received "no pushback whatsoever" from other league owners about repeating the same process for Seattle.
Leiweke said the team will host the expansion draft at its arena. One more thing to remember: As part of their agreement to enter the league, the Golden Knights will not have to expose any players in the expansion draft. They also don't get a cut of the $650 million Seattle entry fee.
Who is involved with the Seattle team, and when are they building the staff?
There are nearly 30 members in the ownership group. The No. 1 majority owner is investment banker David Bonderman. Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer is right behind him, though when I asked Bruckheimer how involved he would be, he said: "I leave it to professionals to do it. I'm one of the owners, but we try to hire really good people to run the organization. Smart people stay out of it [and] let the people who know what they're doing do it."
Leiweke's brother, Tim, a former Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs executive, also has a stake. Tod Leiweke most recently served as the NFL's chief operating officer before he resigned in March to join his brother's company.
As of now, the only hockey operations person on staff is Dave Tippett, the former Coyotes coach, who was brought on as a senior adviser over the summer. Don't be surprised if the team hires a general manager as early as this spring. Since the start date was pushed back a season, there's no real rush in hiring a coach, so they might wait for the right candidate to emerge.
Here's what Tod Leiweke had to say: "We're going to look at these timelines and how it can be put to our advantage. Certainly we're going to be able to lay eyes on players for an additional season. There is certainly one model where you can bring on staff earlier, and I think ownership has proven they're willing to make the investment. So we're going to make the best use of this time."
How is the NHL going to realign to accommodate another team in the Pacific?
The Coyotes will move to the Central Division starting in the 2021-22 season. It's an easy solution, really, and the Coyotes have been made aware of the arrangement for some time.
The NHL tried to play up a Vegas/Arizona rivalry with the Golden Knights' induction -- Both teams are in the desert! -- but it never really stuck. As one team owner told me, the NHL puts too much emphasis on city-versus-city rivalries and instead should be promoting its players (and player-versus-player rivalries). Hey, considering how the Blackhawks and Coyotes have become favorite trading partners of late, this makes a lot of sense! Get ready for the Nick Schmaltz, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Richard Panik, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Connor Murphy, Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini revenge series, y'all (assuming all players stick with their current teams that long).
Bettman said the Coyotes' move was all about making "geographical sense," as the Coyotes spend most of their season on mountain time. As for speculation that the Coyotes' move to the Central might pave the way for a potential relocation -- say, to Houston -- deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "I mean, I would say you've got to look at the other side of that, which is there was no other change that was more logical than moving Arizona like we did. One has nothing to do with the other."
What's next for NHL expansion?
With the league rounded out to 32 teams, expansion is likely finished for the near term. Bettman and Daly have both said there's nothing "magical" about the number 32, but Daly reminded people not to read into that quote as an invitation for further expansion. "Look, there is a great demand for NHL hockey, and we're in a great spot, as we think our franchises have never been more stable," Daly said. "The commissioner alluded to it, but at some point, there is some limit to the amount of markets that add value to the league."
That said, relocation opportunities loom. The most attractive city is Houston. There's already interest from a potential owner, Tilman Fertitta, who purchased the Houston Rockets in September for a reported $2.2 billion. Fertitta met with Bettman this fall, though it was more of an informal, "get to know you and trade notes" kind of session.
Houston has a hockey-amenable arena, the Toyota Center, that sits 17,000-plus. As the league tries to grow its imprint in the U.S., Houston's diversity -- as well as its sheer size as a top-10 market -- is attractive.