Seat­tle win­ners of Ve­gas gam­ble

Seat­tleites, and hockey fans both win if NHL heads to the Emer­ald City

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS POST­MEDIA NETWORK

You don’t have to be a Star­bucks­drink­ing, grunge-lis­ten­ing and plaid-wear­ing Seat­tleite — yes, this is what peo­ple are Seat­tle are called — to love that the National Hockey League looks like it’s headed to the state of Washington.

You just have to be a hockey fan. Or be a fan of not liv­ing through an­other labour lock­out.

That’s the big­gest take-away from Mon­day ’s an­nounce­ment that the Seat­tle City Coun­cil ap­proved a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group to pri­vately fi­nance a roughly $600 mil­lion US re­model of KeyArena for NHL and NBA use in time (if all goes well with of­fi­cial NHL league ac­cep­tance) for the 2020-21 sea­son. That’s right around the time that the cur­rent NHL col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment could ex­pire if the league or the National Hockey League Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion take ad­van­tage of a 2019 op­tion to opt out of the cur­rent agree­ment in 2020. Con­ve­nient, isn’t it? If there’s any­thing to pres­sure both sides into work­ing to­ward a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, it’s the added in­cen­tive of in­creased rev­enues and jobs that a new fran­chise will bring. Right off the top, the price of the ex­pan­sion team is ex­pected to cost more than the $500 mil­lion US Ve­gas paid in 2016. Then there are the 23 new ros­ter spots it cre­ates for play­ers.

It’s a win-win for own­ers and play­ers. And ul­ti­mately, that’s good for hockey fans — even the ones liv­ing next to an empty NHL-size arena in Que­bec City.

You can de­bate whether Seat­tle should get a hockey fran­chise be­fore Que­bec City or whether the league should ex­pand when other mar­kets, such as Ari­zona and Florida, are strug­gling to fill the building. But a 32nd team is com­ing. It’s just a mat­ter of time.

When the league ac­cepted ex­pan­sion ap­pli­ca­tions in 2015, the ex­pec­ta­tion was that two teams would be added: one from Ve­gas and an­other from Seat­tle. But Seat­tle, which didn’t have an arena deal in place, chose not to ap­ply. Rather than award a fran­chise to Que­bec City — the only other team that ap­plied and a city that had a new arena — the league came up with an ex­cuse about ge­o­graph­i­cal im­bal­ance and in­stead added only one team.

Oak View Group has lined up bil­lion­aire David Bon­der­man and film­maker Jerry Bruck­heimer as the lead own­ers for a po­ten­tial NHL Seat­tle fran­chise. This heavy­weight group has the re­sources and know-how to put a bid to­gether. And more im­por­tantly, they have an arena be­ing re­mod­elled for NHL spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

Add in the fact that Seat­tle would give bal­ance to a league where there are 16 teams in the Eastern Con­fer­ence and only 15 in the West, and it’s prac­ti­cally a done deal that the NHL will be ex­pand­ing to 32 teams in the near fu­ture. The board of gover­nors are meet­ing this week in Florida — an of­fi­cial ex­pan­sion an­nounce­ment could come as early as July.

The only question is whether the league will stop at 32? With Hous­ton and Kansas City also in­ter­ested, and Que­bec City pa­tiently wait­ing for some­one to re­lo­cate, don’t be sur­prised if this be­comes a 34-team league in the next 10 years.

After all, so far the gam­ble is pay­ing off in Las Ve­gas. And when gam­bles start pay­ing off, you’re more in­clined to dou­ble down your bets.

With Seat­tle on its way to ren­o­vat­ing its arena for an ex­pected en­trance into the NHL, ex­pect the heat to be turned up on the city of Cal­gary.

After all, it’s not nec­es­sary that the league ex­pand to 32 teams. While the NHL does not plan on re­lo­cat­ing any of its fran­chises, with­out a new rink in Cal­gary the team’s fu­ture in Al­berta might not be se­cure.

“We be­lieve in all of the places that we have fran­chises now,” NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said dur­ing last month’s GM meet­ings in Mon­treal.

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