With somewhere in the neighborhood of 32,000 season-ticket deposits and a market seemingly readymade for the NHL, Seattle projects to be the league’s 32nd franchise. Before that can become official, however, the group looking to bring an expansion team to Seattle needs league approval, and it might not be much longer before they get the green light.
In speaking Tuesday with Dave Mahler and Dick Fain on Seattle’s 950 KJR, president and CEO of the group heading up Seattle’s NHL bid, Tod Leiweke, said that he and prospective team owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer will be heading to New York City in the first week of October to meet with the NHL’s executive committee to get the process started on the league approving a team in Seattle.
“I’ve never prepared like this for a presentation or meeting, and I’ve had a few in my career,” Leiweke said. “This is an important moment because we owe it to the city to do our best. There’s so much excitement and those 32,000 depositors absolutely deserve us getting up there that day and giving it everything we’ve got.”
If all goes well at that meeting, Leiweke said the group would then go before the “entire membership of the NHL to make our case.” That could come as soon as December at the NHL’s Board of Governors meetings.
Originally, it was believed the Seattle group would meet with the NHL at some point over the course of the summer. And while the delay in meeting with the league means the prospective expansion franchise doesn’t yet have approval, Leiweke told Mahler and Fain that the few extra months has actually benefited the group overall, that it has allowed them to present a story to the executive committee that is “so much more complete.” That goes beyond the turnout for the season-ticket drive, too. Leiweke said pushing back the meeting to October will mean the agreement to begin the $700-million renovation of Seattle’s KeyArena should be in place, as well as plans in place for a training facility with multiple ice surfaces that will be used not only by the could-be Seattle franchise but will help “contribute to growth of the sport in the Pacific Northwest.”
“There’s a whole bunch of things that are so much farther along than what we might have had in June, where we would say, ‘Hey, trust us,’ ” Leiweke said. “Now, instead of saying ‘trust us,’ we’re going to walk in with all sorts of things in hand that if I were in their shoes, I would find very compelling.”
The Seattle group would assuredly love to have approval in place not long after the October meeting, too, as it would allow them to begin putting the pieces of the franchise together as it pertains to the on-ice product. That’s not to say they haven’t already begun that process in some capacity. In June, it was announced that longtime coach Dave Tippett, who was last seen behind an NHL bench in 2016-17, had joined the group as an advisor. Since coming aboard, Leiweke said Tippett learned the other side of the hockey business, sitting in on meetings, talking about budgets and business plans.
Tippett is also keeping his focus on the game, though, seeing what a 32nd franchise would have to do to replicate the success of the NHL’s 31st, the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas fought their way to a Western Conference championship and Stanley Cup final berth in their inaugural season.
“(Tippett is) doing forensics on what happened in Las Vegas,” Leiweke said. “But he’s also looking out and saying, ‘Here’s what’s going on across the league.’ We’re doing early work now to begin to prepare…We’ve got to do our homework, we’ve got to be prepared when we get to that moment.”
While that would seem to suggest that Tippett is in line to become the first GM, or at the very least the first coach, of the unnamed and unofficial Seattle franchise, that’s not necessarily the case. Leiweke told Mahler and Fain that it was made clear during initial conversations with Tippett that the group was not hiring a coach or a GM when he was brought into the fold. Leiweke did add, however, that there’s “such a unique opportunity here to be in on the ground floor. But the rules of engagement were that this was not necessarily a path to any other job.”
And despite speculation that this is all but a done deal between the NHL and Seattle, that the league’s 32nd team will be hitting the ice come the 2020-21 season, Leiweke said no one is getting ahead of themselves. “We are not taking anything for granted,” Leiweke said. “It would be an incredible honor to be the 32nd franchise, so we’re going to be prepared for that day and that task.”