Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league prefers to have Seattle ready for the 2020-21 season but a decision probably won't be made until next year on whether to delay until 2021. “We were talking about not one year but the long-term viability and that’s what they’re thinking about," NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke...
NEW YORK – Navigating an ever-tight path to an October 2020 launch date for Seattle’s expected NHL team turned out not to be the deal-breaker long assumed.
Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and members of a Seattle delegation lobbying for a team said Tuesday that having KeyArena renovated in time for the 2020-21 season won’t be a factor in awarding the franchise. Bettman made clear the league still prefers a 2020 opening, but would make a final decision on that only after a December vote by the NHL board of governors on making Seattle its 32nd entrant.
“I think everybody agrees sooner is better,” Bettman said. “But we have to and they have to get comfortable with the timeline as to what’s realistic. Obviously, it would be unfortunate in the extreme if we decided to go at one time and the building wasn’t ready.’’
He added that the league plans to closely monitor the renovation into next year for “variables and trigger points’’ related mostly to construction before ultimately deciding a launch date. If the renovation hits snags that delay the 2020 opening, “then we’ll go with 2021, but I think everybody’s preference would be sooner rather than later.’’
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Both Bettman and the Seattle delegation members participating in a Tuesday morning presentation to the NHL’s executive committee said the renovation timeline wasn’t a primary concern. Bettman said the league cares more about the long-term viability of the Seattle market and that’s what the approval vote at the upcoming Dec. 3-4 board of governors meetings in Sea Island, Georgia, will be about.
“Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country,’’ he said. “It gives us a geographic balance. It creates a nice geographic rivalry with Vancouver. I know Vancouver’s particularly excited about the possibility. The ownership group, plans for the arena. I mean, it’s all of the above. It’s never one factor. If you’re going to have a successful expansion application, all of the bases need to be touched.”
NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said the nine executive committee members didn’t spend much time dwelling on the 2020 start date.
“We didn’t really get into too much detail there,’’ Leiweke said. “We were talking about not one year but the long-term viability and that’s what they’re thinking about. Not a year, not a day. They’re thinking about long term. Is this a fit for the National Hockey League.’’
Future team owner David Bonderman added: “This is not about this year. This is forever. It’s a long-term partnership with the city, with long-term issues. And we’re not about to get overwhelmed by short-term issues.’’
If the franchise is awarded – which appears overwhelmingly likely — the readiness of KeyArena won’t be the only issue owners weigh when deciding next year whether to launch in 2020 or 2021. Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said some of his fellow governors are concerned about having enough time to prepare for an expansion draft so they can protect their best players better than when the Vegas Golden Knights pillaged the league two years ago.
Seattle would benefit from the same draft rules as the Knights did.
“We need to make sure that the existing clubs have an ample opportunity to make sure that they’re planned appropriately for the expansion draft,’’ Bettman said. “The expansion draft would be the same rules as Las Vegas… so, we want to make sure that there’s enough notice for the existing teams to do the appropriate planning that they have to do to comply with the requirements of the expansion draft.’’