NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured the KeyArena and Northgate practice facility sites on Wednesday and said everything is proceeding for a team launch by October 2021. He pledged that Seattle will have an All-Star Game within seven years of that launch and likely an expansion draft prior.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in a one-day visit to Seattle on Wednesday, vowed the league plans to bring some “big events” to KeyArena once it undergoes an $850 million renovation so a team can play there starting October 2021.
Bettman met with members of the future team’s ownership group, additional prospective investors and Mayor Jenny Durkan and toured the site of the team’s planned $70 million practice facility at Northgate Mall. Then, in an afternoon news conference at the Space Needle, he said the league has already promised the NHL Seattle group that the city will be awarded an All-Star Game and will likely get to stage either an entry or expansion draft before that.
“We’ve promised an All-Star Game to Seattle within seven years of playing,’’ Bettman said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to wait seven years. We’ve got to look at scheduling — both ours and in terms of the city’s availability to host all of our guests in our hotels and everything. But we’re going to be bringing big events here. This is where we want to be.’’
Bettman also said: “We’re looking at when it would be appropriate to bring the draft here. Obviously, we need to have an expansion draft, so we’re looking at the possibility.’’
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The NHL Seattle group has also asked the league to stage an outdoor game. Bettman said the rainy weather could be an issue with that and — while not ruling anything out — seemed cool to the idea of holding it under the retractable open-air roof at T-Mobile Park.
An expansion draft would take place in June 2021 ahead of the Seattle team’s first season. NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke has been adamant he’d like to host the expansion draft as the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017 before making their league debut.
Leiweke, seated next to Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on the podium Wednesday, said his group plans to put out a computer portal within 60 days where about 33,000 season-ticket deposit holders will get a detailed look at the timeline of how things with the team — including its name choice — are expected to progress.
“We’re going to have them weigh in on all sorts of things,” Leiweke said. “If I have my way, their fingerprints are going to be all over this franchise. Certainly team name, but they’re going to help us build this up.”
Bettman and Daly arrived in town just after midnight Wednesday and left for Las Vegas after the news conference. It was their first visit since the league last month awarded a team to a Seattle group headed by David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer.
“If you talk about it in the terms of kicking the tires — the tires are in great shape,” Bettman said. He added: “This is going to be great not just for Seattle but for the NHL as well.”
Bettman said the league has long wanted to be in Seattle. During a 2014 visit here, he met with city leaders to gauge the time frame for completing a proposed arena in the city’s Sodo District. But that proposed venue didn’t materialize — nor did other proposals in 2015 for arenas in Bellevue or Tukwila — and the league went in to a yearslong holding pattern.
“The problem was there was no place to play,” he said. “Lots of people came to us with notions or ideas to have a building and none of those buildings ever materialized.”
That changed, he added, when Tim Leiweke and the Oak View Group proposed renovating KeyArena in 2016.
“The vision, with the reality of having a building that was actually going to happen is what made this possible.”
Bettman said he’s aware of the recent change in general contractors from Skanska Hunt to Mortenson and that costs of the renovation have ballooned up toward $850 million — and $1.5 billion when the team cost and practice facility at Northgate are factored in.
On that practice venue, with three sheets of public ice: “This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility, which will be good for the community.”
Bettman said he’d toured the ticket preview center near KeyArena and that it’s almost completed.
He added that he’s excited to see the rest unfold. While he understands the local “frenzy” that’s built up around what the team name will be, he cautioned that it can’t be rushed.
“We need some lead time for the branding and creating a logo and an identity,” Bettman said. “This is an era where trademarks, even in sports, but anywhere, there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to make sure you’ve got a good trademark.
“So, they’ve got to come up with the branding that they’re comfortable with. And I think they’re going to go through a process that involves all the constituent groups. And then, they can come up with a name that they think is the greatest name ever and it will turn out that they can’t trademark it.
“So, this is going to be a process that is going to take time to do it right. But it’s got to be done right.’’