Oct 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference prior to the game between the Phoenix Coyotes and the New York Rangers at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

NHL To Seattle: Can It Happen?


Seattle used to be a hockey city. It still is, in name, though the Thunderbirds have been in Kent since 2009. Before the WHL days, Seattle played host to the Metropolitans, who in 1917 became the first non-Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup. That stood as Seattle’s first and only major sports championship until 1979, of course. So while Seattle currently isn’t much about hockey, it sure used to be. And it’s sure starting to look like hockey could be on it’s way back to Seattle sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Meet Victor Coleman. He’s a real estate mogul who was born in Vancouver, BC, and there are your obvious local and hockey ties. Northwesterners love the northwest, Canadians love hockey. Generalizations, of course, but the short of it is that Coleman’s more than just a suit. He’s more than just a suit in the same way that Chris Hansen is, in that he’s passionately interested in bringing a new pro sports franchise to Seattle. He’s also like Hansen in that he just bought a ton of land in Sodo.

Coleman works out of Los Angeles these days, but a few days ago he made his way up to Seattle. He wasn’t exactly coming to town to sight-see, as he met with NHL officials to discuss the city as a potential hockey market. They met with Seattle Mayor Ed Murphy to discuss a potential alternation to the plans made with Balmer to open an NBA-first sportsplex. The new idea would be to let hockey sneak in first. Murphy let the group know that at the moment this wasn’t on the table, but seems willing to continue dialogue going forward.

There’s the details. Now what we all want to know is: is it plausible? That depends. The easy answer is “no,” because the NHL isn’t in an obvious position to expand. These meetings almost certainly don’t include a whispered component about which franchise they should poach and bring to town, and the Coleman group is pretty open with the word “expansion.” There’s no secret that what these guys want is the NHL in Seattle by way of the league adding a 31st team.

We’ve got 32 teams in the NFL and 30 in each of MLB, the NBA, and the NHL. Football and baseball are steady, consistent money-printing machines with amazing revenue streams that are only getting stronger. The two small-court leagues have had much less recent stability, with high-profile lockouts costing them huge chunks of seasons. There’s also been loads of franchise movement due to financial instability and low-quality stadiums, which is probably why we’re having these conversations in the first place. The NBA and NHL are obviously the weaker two of America’s big four pro sports leagues, yet they’re the ones we’re asking to expand?

Football and baseball, for their part, have no intentions of adding new teams. There’s no need, as that would dilute the pool of available talent and spread internal revenue sharing profits thin. Asking the NBA and NHL to please, please give Seattle a new team is almost lunacy when viewed relative to the strength of the league. Yet maybe it’s not, because here’s Gary Bettman, touring Seattle and refusing to outright rule out expansion. On the basketball side of the coin Adam Silver seems, at the very least, more willing to listen on the subject than did his predecessor. Expansion in any major pro sport (sorry, MLS) still seems like a long shot, but at least there’s a shot.

And that’s as much as we can say right now: it’s a long shot, but there’s a shot. Everything that needs to be happening behind the scenes appears to be happening, and the commissioner of the NHL has taken notice. Land’s been bought, and a potential ownership group seems to have been established. The league’s not short a team, so things are probably at an impasse for the forseeable future. Which is better than nothing.

Tags: Gary Bettman Hockey NHL Seattle Victor Coleman