NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly warned Monday that the Seattle NHL team might launch a year later than expected, in October 2021, if a KeyArena renovation isn't completed on time. But NHL Seattle says it is still aiming to meet the deadline.
NHL Seattle officials said Monday they are working to have a $700 million KeyArena renovation completed for the 2020 hockey season despite doubts expressed by a top league official.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was quoted Monday by the league’s official website saying he had heard the arena might not be ready until November 2020, a month after the season opens. Daly said that’s too late and would likely delay a future Seattle team’s launch by a year to the 2021-22 season, as the league has no interest in the squad playing in a temporary venue for any amount of time.
The league is expected to award a Seattle expansion franchise — to start play either in 2020 or 2021 — at its board of governors meetings Dec. 3 and 4 in Sea Island, Ga., and Daly told the website everything is on track for that to happen.
A noise-variance permit granted to the Oak View Group – which is handling the renovation — by the City of Seattle last week projects KeyArena construction to be completed by November 2020. The permit will allow for nighttime construction and based its timeline for completion on information submitted by OVG.
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NHL Seattle released a statement Monday saying it “recognizes that its ability to begin play in 2020 is dependent on the Arena being finished on time. We are confident that we will have a completed arena in time for the 2020 season and we will work closely with the NHL to keep them informed of our progress.”
Daly in the NHL.com story made it sound as if Seattle officials had warned him the arena target date might be missed.
“They’ve mentioned that possibility, but I don’t think that’s an ideal way to bring in an expansion franchise by playing in an alternate venue for any period of time, really,” Daly said. “We’ll see how that plays out. I know they have an interest in starting in ’20-21 and we’d like the accommodate them any way we can.”
NHL Seattle officials said they weren’t sure what Daly was basing his comments on and offered no further insight into discussions they have had with him. Daly did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The issue of whether a tight KeyArena construction timeline can be met in time for October 2020 has been part of the ongoing question of when the team will launch. Getting the renovation streamlined as efficiently as possible is a major reason NHL Seattle last week hired Ken Johnsen as its Construction Executive in charge of the KeyArena project and a planned $70 million practice facility for Northgate Mall.
Both the league and NHL Seattle should have a clearer picture by mid-to-late 2019 whether the 2020 deadline is achievable.
There is precedent for professional sports leagues pushing back a team’s home games for a few weeks by having them start on the road so a home venue can be completed.
This past Major League Soccer season, the expansion Los Angeles FC team opened March 4 on the road and didn’t play its home opener at new Banc de California Stadium until April 29. OVG officials had previously suggested the Seattle NHL team could delay its season into late October in similar fashion if the league allowed it.
Beyond the arena issue, the league is also uncertain of what its labor situation will be right around the time of any October 2020 launch by the Seattle team. The NHL Players Association must inform the league by next September if it plans an early opt-out of the current collective-bargaining agreement – which many suspect it will do.
If that happens, the players would opt out of the deal in September 2020. And that means the league could lock them out just weeks before the 2020-21 season and Seattle’s launch would begin.
For that reason, there is some feeling the league would prefer the team to start play a year later – regardless of whether KeyArena is ready in October 2020 — by which time any labor impasse would likely be resolved and allow the franchise to launch unimpeded.