Time to get excited because it feels like the NHL is almost here after Thursday’s decision by the NHL. Seattle needs a winter sport, and this will help fill a near decadelong void.
There’s an 8-4 NFL team in town that’s about to take on the best defense in the league. There’s a college basketball team that just upset the No. 2 squad in the country.
There’s an MLS team on the cusp of winning back-to-back titles, and an MLB team vying for a potential franchise-changing superstar.
But do you want to know what the talk of Seattle was Thursday? A team that doesn’t exist yet.
One hundred years after the Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup, the NHL appears closer than ever to coming to the Emerald City. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Thursday that Seattle — and only Seattle — can submit an application to try to lure an expansion team here.
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The $650 million expansion fee is not insignificant, but the David Bonderman/Jerry Bruckheimer-led ownership group appears to have the capital and enthusiasm to get it done. And though Bettman offered no guarantees that we’ll eventually land a franchise — man, it just feels like it’s gonna happen.
“We saw the (Vancouver) Canucks are really excited to come here and get beat,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We remember Seattle has more Stanley Cups and we plan to add to that.”
Well done, Ms. Durkan. Let the smack-talking begin. Hockey might not be the ultimate whale local sports fans want the soon-to-be renovated KeyArena to land, but it’s going to be big here.
For one — seasonally speaking, at least — the NHL will have a hell of a time slot. Assuming a team is here for the 2020-21 season, which would align with the goals for KeyArena to be remodeled by October of 2020, hockey will essentially have the winter to itself for several years.
Sure, it’s possible that Mike Hopkins will have the Huskies men’s basketball team among the nation’s elite by then, but if we’re talking about major pro sports, hockey will own the front page between the end of the Seahawks’ season and MLB opening day.
As a sports writer in this town, I know that February and March are terrifying. Story ideas can be so scarce that you start to see them as mirages.
I feel like fans around here feel similarly. Seattle needs a winter sport, and this will help fill a near decadelong void.
You know locals will go all in on hockey, too. The Sounders’ support attests to that. They traditionally draw more fans to their home stadium than any other MLS team, and there’s little reason to think the NHL won’t have a similar — if not greater — effect.
It’s faster-paced than soccer, for starters. It’s more a physical game for the players and more intimate experience for the fans. Hockey die-hards often preach that there is no greater sport to watch in person, and if you’ve ever seen an NHL game live, you can understand their perspective.
But it’s also a league in which championship hopes stay afloat despite a squad’s tenuous record. Sixteen teams make the playoffs, remember. And unlike the NBA, where the Finals tend to be predetermined every year, the NHL breeds postseason chaos.
From 2003 to last year, nine teams seeded sixth in their conference or lower made it to the Stanley Cup Final, including the eighth-seeded Kings, who won it all in 2014. Last year, the Predators — who finished with the eighth-best record in the West — swept the mighty Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
Get a hot goalie, and you’re right in it. That’s why being a couple of games out of the postseason in March is particularly thrilling. You aren’t just hoping your team extends its season — you know it could be a couple of months away from a parade.
Fans wouldn’t necessarily have to wait for an expansion team to develop into a contender, either. The Las Vegas Golden Knights, who are in their first year of existence, are 17-9 and in second place in their division.
Right now, of course, none of this is reality in Seattle. Sports narratives can have cruel plot twists sometimes, so perhaps the optimism should be tempered.
Actually, never mind. Get excited. It feels like the NHL is almost here.
So go ahead and talk about it — and throw in some smack while you’re at it.