Inside the NHL

There’s a perception among some local hockey fans that NHL Seattle is lagging in preparations for its inaugural 2021-22 season.

Whether it’s the team’s name, naming rights for KeyArena, season ticket prices, sponsorships, or a coaching staff, NHL Seattle can’t seem to do it quickly enough. Much of the angst, though, has to do with managing expectations.

Frankly, the team has often been its own worst enemy – announcing timelines that continually shift, such as with season ticket deposits. When Oak View Group (OVG) CEO Tim Leiweke said two years ago that depositors could start selecting seats by June 2018, it’s only natural some are fretting that general season ticket prices have yet to be announced.

Do these delays matter? In most cases, no. Remember, the team initially planned to launch this October. When the NHL postponed that by one year to accommodate envisioned KeyArena construction delays, it threw off other timelines.

Fortunately, we have the Vegas Golden Knights expansion just two-plus years ago to gauge whether things are happening quickly enough. Vegas was an unqualified expansion success, so, if good enough for that franchise, it should work for Seattle’s.

Let’s start with aforementioned tickets.

NHL Seattle had planned for seat selection on general season tickets last week but has shifted that to early March. The reason is the team now plans to invite ticket-deposit holders to its preview center for the full-on tour and selection experience – such as the recently completed club-level sales – instead of merely picking seats online.

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The hope is to complete sales by summer.

With Vegas, season-ticket prices weren’t released until February 2017 ahead of the team’s October 2017 launch.

You can certainly quibble about NHL Seattle holding depositor money for two years, but remember, some of that was from pushing back the launch date. It’s also from covering the anticipated cost of KeyArena’s rebuild, which has grown substantially since Leiweke’s comments in March 2018.

But big picture, NHL Seattle is a full year ahead of Vegas.

Same with the team name, which is what fans seem most impatient about. It’s also, if we’re being honest, the least important thing on this list.

Whether the name is Kraken, Sockeyes, Steelheads, Sasquatch, Evergreens, Freeze, Totems, Metropolitans, or Two-Headed Robo-Seals, history tells us fans will eventually accept it and life will continue. As to whether it matters that there’s still no name – that decision is now expected in March or early April – Vegas didn’t announce “Golden Knights” until mid-November 2016.

So NHL Seattle would be seven months ahead of Vegas if the name drops by April. Worth noting: The delay is largely attributable to researching trademark issues, which came back to bite Vegas in a dispute with the U.S. Army’s parachuting squad.

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A coaching staff? Vegas hired Gerard Gallant in April 2017 ahead of its debut. So, NHL Seattle has 14 months before bumping up against that comp. General manager Ron Francis was hired 27 months ahead of Seattle’s debut, compared with 15 months for Vegas GM George McPhee.

As for KeyArena naming rights: There’s no arena to name yet, just a roof sitting atop stilts.

T-Mobile bought the Vegas naming rights in January 2016, which was three months before that arena opened. KeyArena isn’t reopening for 16 months at best.

Sure, some deals get done years in advance, such as J.P. Morgan Chase acquiring naming rights in San Francisco three years before the Chase Center opened. But that was an exceptional, U.S.-record $300 million deal over 20 years and didn’t begin until the arena opened last fall.

With KeyArena, there were naming-rights discussions in 2018, but then, as reported in The Seattle Times a couple of weeks back, OVG and NHL Seattle shifted priorities to focus on founding partner sponsorships. Either way, whoever buys naming rights will reap value only when there’s a framed arena to slap something on.

So, whether sold next week, or next spring, what matters is NHL Seattle getting its price.

It’s different with other sponsorships. The upcoming KeyArena technology and wireless founding partnerships require infrastructure installation – some of it 53 feet below ground –  so you can’t wait forever on that.

Schneider Electric became a founding tech partner and infrastructure outfitter 14 months before the Vegas arena opened. So if we enter May without similar deals, that might be pushing it.

On the planned practice facility at Northgate Mall, its groundbreaking is in 2½ weeks with a 15-month completion target. That leaves it on target for a summer 2021 completion two-plus months ahead of NHL training camps opening.

The Vegas practice facility broke ground October 2016 and finished only a couple weeks before the team’s camp.

In reality, the only potential delay really worth monitoring is whether KeyArena reopens by June 1, 2021, so the Storm can play a full WNBA season there. Of lingering issues, this is one where NHL Seattle truly lags Vegas – where the arena was ready 18 months before the Golden Knights played.

Speculating is useless, because almost none of us has experience building a project such as this. Fortunately we’ll have far more to assess come June, when the NHL announces where its 2021 draft will be.

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If it picks Seattle, you’ll know everybody was assured KeyArena will reopen on time. If not, we’ll reasonably ponder why the NHL doubts its June 2021 draft can happen there.

NHL Seattle doesn’t need the arena until the September 2021 exhibition season. Sure, the team wants the draft, but barring that, the most important thing is ensuring any further arena delays don’t stretch beyond August 2021.

After all, having a historically preserved roof over a completed arena in time for games is truly what matters for the long-term success of the Kraken, Sasquatch, Two-Headed Robo-Seals or whatevers. Accomplish that, and no one will remember or care how long the other stuff took.