Inside the NHL
One thing about Kraken media tours of Climate Pledge Arena is they sometimes coincide with bad news the team plans to break to the public.
Namely, the team walks everybody around and then drops word the completion date for the $1 billion-plus renovation of the former KeyArena has been pushed back just a tad. Unfortunately, there is no longer any “tad” to be had, as your proverbial worm on a fishing hook has more wiggle room than the arena does to get completed in time for the 2021-22 NHL season.
So it was somewhat comforting Monday during the team’s latest and supposedly last of such tours to hear Mortenson project executive Greg Huber proclaim he’s aiming for 93% completion by month’s end. And for Oak View Group (OVG) construction executive Ken Johnsen to declare all is on track for mid-September completion, then extensive testing before the arena opens a month or so later.
The “or so” part is mine. From what I’ve heard, the NHL will have the expansion team start with two, maybe three road games once the 2021-22 regular-season schedule is announced this month.
The team’s reopening target for a while has been Oct. 15-22, which isn’t far off the NHL’s planned Oct. 12 season debut. The Kraken picks its team in next week’s expansion draft, and then the countdown to that opening will be on. As long as the span of two or three road games doesn’t stretch to the several weeks that the New York Islanders will spend away from home awaiting their new OVG arena, this should work out for the Kraken.
Despite bold talk the prior 2½ years of wanting to open at home, the Kraken doesn’t really need that. No, if you’re general manager Ron Francis or coach Dave Hakstol, the last thing your expansion team needs already confronting first-game pressures is to face them in front of 17,000-plus home fans.
It will be enough of a circus when the Kraken finally does play at home. This arena — and believe me, I’ve seen the finished virtual reality project and every ongoing incarnation in tours both for general media and private — will be the talk of the city’s sports scene.
And the Kraken? We haven’t had major professional indoor winter sports since the Sonics left some 13 years ago. So, yeah, there will be a spotlight and the Kraken might as well shed nervous kinks on the road.
Monday’s tour was a turning point for me. A month ago, when visiting the arena to see future Chateau Ste. Michelle winery setups there, I was a bit concerned.
Some walls were still in framing stages with drywall yet to be installed. As anyone that has done home renovations locally can attest, that’s a major red flag if your goal is finishing within a few months.
The interior finishes of this arena are pretty intricate for private suites and club areas, so there isn’t time to waste. But we also have to remember, when 1,000 workers are showing up daily it’s easier to get drywall installed and painted than if calling from a private Queen Anne mansion a few blocks away.
And from what I saw Monday, those walls have gone up, tile is being installed that wasn’t there during my previous stopover, and the majority of seats are in place.
Johnsen told me every remaining seat is now within the city proper, either in a shipping container en route to the arena or waiting to be installed within it. That wasn’t always the case, as pandemic-related global supply network slowdowns kept a significant percentage of retractable seating — which can be removed for concerts — held up in Slovakia.
But if you have seats and a rink with overhanging scoreboards — two of them at this arena — you can play NHL hockey.
And that will apparently happen roughly on time even though the Kraken will play preseason home games in Spokane, Everett and Kent because the arena couldn’t meet its prior June 1, 2021, finishing date announced during another of these media tours.
Hey, I grew up in Montreal, a city that couldn’t hit its target using a proverbial cannon aimed at the side of a barn when it came to finishing venues. My earliest memories of Montreal Expos baseball games at Olympic Stadium was of seeing an active construction zone beyond the outfield wall as workers scrambled to finish off the stadium years after the 1976 Olympic Games.
That shouldn’t be an issue here. If Climate Pledge Arena construction hits snags — what, here in Seattle? — enough has been done that OVG can always de-prioritize back-house stuff and finish the portions that are in full view of fans to spare them the horrors of my Montreal sports youth.
But supposedly, everything will get done.
That includes a Kraken dressing room where — thanks to input from GM Francis — the team’s logo is destined for the ceiling rather than the floor. It’s considered bad luck for players to walk over their own logo, so this spares them navigating around it. Truthfully, more media members have probably committed that transgression, and so for this I’m thankful.
Same with the press box. In an era when some teams relegate the media to bleacher seating, the Kraken has built an old-school-style, unobstructed, overhanging catwalk view of the ice. So anything missed in game stories, blame on me.
We passed through “Tunnel Clubs” as well, where patrons can watch players — through plexiglass — walk off and on to the ice from their dressing room. We saw only the Kraken dressing room, but there also will be a locker room for the Storm, and another in anticipation of the Sonics returning.
Yes, the NBA should be back within a few years. If you don’t get that by now after all of the extra millions dropped on Climate Pledge to prepare it for a Sonics return, you probably also think the Kraken will win a Stanley Cup in its first season.
That’s highly unlikely — 200 to 1 odds against it, according to the William Hill sportsbook. But the Kraken could contend for the playoffs in one of the NHL’s nicest arenas — from both a luxury and a view-from-the-very-steep-grandstands perspective.
And given all this city has been through getting a venue built for major winter pro sports, that’s good news.
Just so long as it gets done on time from here.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a caption with incorrect information. The tour of Climate Pledge Arena was held on Monday.