Among the biggest questions facing the all-but-approved bid that would see the NHL award the league’s 32nd franchise to Seattle was the matter of a new arena. The Oak View Group, which is heading up the $700-million renovation project that would rejuvenate the current KeyArena, has said several times that the plan is to have the building ready in time for what would be the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign, and earlier this week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan backed up OVG by saying that, if all goes according to plan, the arena’s major makeover will be completed in less than two years’ time.
“Every major project there's surprises, things you don't plan for and can't expect, and we know that, and try to build in those contingencies,” Durkan told Seattle’s KING 5. “But our plan is to open in 2020. We want it; (the Oak View Group) want it. I think we are going to have the best arena, I think in America.”
In recent weeks, the previously stated 2020 timeline has been questioned by no less than NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who said the targeted completion date for the arena could be pushed back to November 2020, according to NHL.com. And while there was also talk of an alternative to the current KeyArena site for a Seattle NHL team if they were to begin play in 2020-21, Daly said he doesn’t see that as “an ideal way to bring in an expansion franchise.”
Daly did note, however, that the group behind the potential Seattle expansion team, which includes Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and businessman David Bonderman, among others, has continued to express interest in beginning play during the 2020-21 campaign, adding that the league would “like to accommodate them any way we can.” That echoes what commissioner Gary Bettman said in early October, when the NHL Executive Committee forwarded Seattle’s expansion proposal on to the NHL’s Board of Governors.
"The focus for everybody is 2020 and that's what we're focused on," Bettman said, per NHL.com. "There are a variety of factors that could impact that, including the (arena) construction timeline. The sooner construction can begin, the more likely for an early start. And if everything can be accomplished, 2020 would be the goal. If not, then we'll go with 2021. But I think everybody's preference would be sooner rather than later.”
There may be more clarity on where the Seattle bid is headed — and when the team will take the ice for the first time as the league’s newest expansion team — by next week. On Dec. 3-4, the Board of Governors will convene in Sea Island, Ga., and it’s expected the group will vote on whether or not to approve the Seattle bid. It has long been assumed that the bid will receive the support of the NHL, particularly given the NHL’s apparent long-standing interest in placing a team in Seattle. Dating back to the expansion process the predates the Vegas Golden Knights’ eventual introduction to the NHL, Seattle has been seen as a viable NHL market.
"Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country," Bettman said in October, according to NHL.com. "It gives us a geographic balance. It creates a nice geographic rivalry with (the) Vancouver (Canucks). I know Vancouver is particularly excited about the possibility. The ownership group, the plans for the arena…I think Mayor Durkan did an excellent job presenting the case for Seattle as a city and there's a base for enthusiasm for Seattle hockey.”
There are signs that the group behind the prospective franchise is confident the bid will be approved, as well. In early October, only days after the process took the next step — from Executive Committee to Board of Governors — Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke announced plans for the franchise’s headquarters and a training facility. The facility is set to include three rinks and a full practice centre, as well as seating for up to 1,000 fans. The expectation is the headquarters and training facility will be completed in 2020, as well.
One hurdle that may stand in Seattle’s way, though, and one entirely out of the group’s control, is a potential NHL lockout. If either the NHL and NHL Players’ Association wants to put an end to the current collective bargaining agreement, there exists the option to do so. If the two parties wish to let the current CBA, agreed upon ahead of the shortened 2012-13 campaign, run through to expiry, the two sides will have until the 2022-23 season to work out a new agreement.
No matter what comes to pass, though, it appears Seattle continues to remain optimistic about beginning play in a state of the art building by the time the 2020-21 campaign rolls around.