NHL Expansion Announcement Coming This Summer
A bus trip from Seattle to Vancouver seems to have shed light on the NHL's immediate future.
At first, this sojourn looked to be an innocuous junket politicos and business poobahs had arranged for a pleasant little expenses-paid weekend of entertainment under the guise of a fact-finding mission about the business of hockey. And maybe it was supposed to be, except that one phrase uttered to a local reporter moved this story onto a much larger radar screen.
|... if the NHL, as expected, issues a “letter of intent’’ to award a franchise in coming weeks to one of three potential Seattle ownership groups.|
The clear inference is that Seattle will put an expansion team on the ice no later than two seasons from now.
So, is a new chapter in the city's hockey history about to be written?
(Incidentally, the segment about 'the rug being pulled out from under them' is an allusion to then-Sonics owner Barry Ackerly tunnelling a group led by first-generation Microsoft billionaire Chris Larson that was set to make a proposal to an über-receptive NHL expansion committee. This villainy and Houston's three proposed ownership groups' inability to work together was why Tampa Bay and Ottawa got the new teams instead.)
Of course, similar smoke signals have puffed up in public before. The NHL has made no secret of its interest in Seattle, using the city as a tethered goat to solidify a deal to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix and often just to make headlines on slow news days.
This season's NHL realignment is designed to add at least one franchise in the West, with the obvious frontrunner being the Emerald City by nature of its market size over other candidates Portland and Las Vegas. The issue now seems to be whether there will be just a lone new team in the offing.
Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, hot on the trail as awareness of this story spread, gathered from one of his sources that the NHL wants to beat the NBA to Seattle. That's logical enough, but buried in his column is this tidbit:
|... insider gossip has the Florida Panthers relocating to Québec City, which is building an arena.|
Frankly, this sounds like another bargaining tactic. While the Panthers have a new deep-pocketed owner, they're still gashing cash and he doesn't want to foot the entire bill. All indications are Broward County will contribute to the cause, but if they do, Québec City still won't be left wanting.
Les Nordiques 2.0 are the safest bet the NHL could make. They've got a solid owner-in-waiting, they've got a state-of-the-art arena nearly completed, and this time around, they've even got a sympathetic civic administration. They're the first consideration for an expansion franchise, which for all practical purposes, means Seattle would be accompanying them.
With the continued success of the Olympic tournament, the Winter Classic becoming a New Year's Day fixture, and outdoor spectaculars from New York to Los Angeles, the NHL's post-lockout timetable for spreading the seed looks to be on schedule.
All that's missing are a few official announcements replacing enticing phrases.