The NHL's Pacific Northwest Expansion Plans
Hey, everyone. My name is Dan Mount and I am the new NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. I've been a lifelong hockey fan ever since my dad put on Hockey Night in Canada when I was five. I'll be talking about the latest news as well as sharing player profiles before the season starts.
Although the NHL hit a bit of speed bump in its road to respectability when the league was reduced to 48 games after a lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, it looks Commissioner Gary Bettman is already talking expansion, with the Bettman’s main choice being Seattle. The league currently sits at 30 teams (16 in the East and 14 in the West) and the way the divisions sit, has two less teams to be used in a possible future realignment/expansion. It’s not just the commish that has openly talked about expanding as Deputy Commissioner Billy Daly the Pacific Northwest is being strongly considered on July 24. Daly said Portland (who already has the very successful junior-level Western Hockey League Portland Winterhawks.) and Seattle are prime locations for expansion or relocation (Hello, Phoenix Coyotes or Florida Panthers) of an existing club.
The groundwork could already by in place for a team in Seattle as an arena could be ready within a couple years of a team being located in the Emerald City. The team would play a couple of seasons at the Key Arena, while the facility is built. (Key’s capacity was a reason that the SuperSonics pulled up stakes and moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder.) Portland already has two arenas that could be used in the Portland Memorial Coliseum or the Rose Garden. (which is also home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers) The Rose Garden being an NHL-ready facility would give the edge to the Rose City.
Seattle had flirted with getting a team earlier this year before the Glendale (Arizona) City Council put the kibosh on that by approving a new lease for the Coyotes. (Although there is a still a possible chance at relocation if the club loses $50 million, thanks to an out-clause in the contract between the new owners and the league.)
Even though there has been no NHL team in the American Pacific Northwest. Hockey has had a long history in the area. The Pacific Coast Hockey Association was one of the top leagues in the early 1900s before the influenza epidemic of 1918 effectively ended the league. The Seattle Metropolitans even won the Stanley Cup in 1917 over the Montreal Canadiens. Seattle has also had various minor league and junior hockey teams from the Totems to the Thunderbirds. Portland also had PCHA team named the Rosebuds and almost landed the Pittsburgh Penguins before Mario Lemieux came in and bought the club. Portland also has had teams like the Buckaroos and now the successful Winterhawks.
So we have facilities and history, but the main thing needed to get hockey in there is money and that’s a commodity that both cities have. The Seattle group that almost landed the Coyotes was led by Ray Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza who are hedge fund investors. Chris Hansen (the one who tried to buy the Sacramento Kings) was also rumored to be part of the team. Portland’s effort is being spearheaded by Winterhawks owner and Alberta billionaire Bill Gallacher and there was also people trying to get Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen into the mix.
You also have some of the best sports fans in the country up there. The Cascadia Cup in MLS, which is challenged by teams in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, is one of the best rivalries in the league. Portland and Seattle fans rank near the top in attendance and almost sell out their large stadiums. Even the WNBA’s Seattle Storm get huge numbers despite the fact that it’s a niche sport. The Seahawks have the famous 12th man and the Mariners have improved on the attendance front. Also, the Vancouver Canucks franchise and fans think it's a great idea as it either (or both) Seattle and/or Portland would make a great natural rival. If your potential rival fans think it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea. The region is also the eighth youngest U.S. city according to Healthy Living magazine, which means there are plenty of young fans to try and tap into, and it is also the 12th largest (and growing) TV market per Nielsen research.
But would expansion to 32 teams be a good idea? You get the usual arguments about play being watered down because a guy who should be in the American Hockey League will only be in the NHL because there are an extra 46 jobs (two teams of 23 extra players if we expand by two to keep the divisions even) in the league. I’m sure the players union wouldn’t have any qualms about getting more players into the league. Some are saying the NHL needs to strengthen its current lineup before it goes off and adds two more teams. Teams are still losing money including hockey-mad Minnesota, which lost $30 million last season. (The lockout did play a factor as well as the giant contracts to Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter. Missing the playoffs doesn’t help, either.)
Another obstacle in the way of a Cascadia troika is the fact that there are plenty of other suitors that want an NHL team. Saskatoon already has an NHL-ready arena as does Kansas City and Oklahoma City. Also Quebec City and Markham, Ontario (Toronto area) have broke ground or will break ground on arenas that would be suitable for an NHL team.
I would love to see Seattle or Portland get a team. (Especially Seattle after they’ve been jerked around b various leagues.) I wasn’t sold on either city getting a team, but the area is growing fast and it could make a ton of money.
That's it for now. I always welcome feedback, leave your comments or tweet me @DanMountSports. Hopefully during the season, I'll leave tweet with people during major NHL games. Take care.