Seattle Continues to Make News in Leagues It Isn't In
Seattle has an interesting hockey history, to say the least.
It was the first American city to host a team that won the Stanley Cup. That would be the Metropolitans in 1917, before there was even an NHL. However, there still was a Montréal Canadiens to beat, which they did.
It was odds-on to be granted an expansion franchise on two occasions, in 1974 and 1992. The first time around, Seattle’s principals couldn’t raise the money. In the latter, SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley sabotaged the Seattle presentation – which included Microsoft millionaire Chris Larson and his $50million check, an amount Ackerley could only dream of possessing – with a brilliantly wicked scheme that ultimately included re-modeling the Key Arena so that it would fall far short of NHL facility requirements. (Larson, incidentally, would soon thereafter become the largest American shareholder of the Seattle Mariners.)
It’s a strange scenario, to say the least:
- The proposed owners are two New York 1%ers, one of whom has a stake in the Yankees whose only connection to Seattle is that it’s his wife’s home town.
- The owners are purely bottom-line oriented, with no innate passion for hockey.
- The proposed new sports arena approved by the Seattle City Council is funding-dependent on an NBA franchise becoming a tenant.
The latter point is interesting, as Chris Hansen has pledged to cover a significant portion of the $490million price tag for the deal, with the city agreeing to pick up the remainder. That pledge won’t apply to an NHL team becoming the first – and possibly only – major sports tenant. With the appearance of deep pockets for NHL ownership, rumblings are no doubt already beginning in City Hall that there should now be no need for public funds to complete the arena project.
However, the New Yorkers have shown no inclination to be a part of the deal and instead are seeking concessions from the city for another remodel of Key Arena, even though it is assumed to be a temporary venue.
Meanwhile, down in the desert, the latest local-oriented group to ride in on a white horse is jockeying with the Glendale City Council for a larger support package to cover costs of the white elephant known as Jobing.com Arena. They’re $9million a year apart, which may cause the elephant to out-white the horse. The fateful meeting is set for Tue 2 Jul; if nothing is resolved, Gary Bettman’s ‘Southern strategy’ will allegedly wave a white flag on this outpost and welcome the dispassionate white knights from New York as the new owners of the Seattle Whomevers to the Western Conference as early as a week later.
Why Seattle and not Québec City or Toronto’s fashionable Markham suburb? Geography. A more logical conference realignment was recently approved by both the NHL and NHLPA, a schedule template has been confirmed, and there’s simply no time for more political maneuvering among existing teams as to who would have to return to the West.
Seattle would no doubt be an instant hit in the NHL. Just as hockey-hungry fans from southern Ontario flock to Buffalo Sabre turnstiles, overflow Canuck fans two-or-so hours north would no doubt do the same. A natural rivalry already exists among these cities – and Portland, which the MLS has mined; to think Paul Allen declined an offer to bid for a sure-thing NHL expansion franchise a few years ago in hopes of landing the then-bankrupt Penguins! – that will surely put the finishing touches on hockey being successful in this upmarket, employment-positive city powered by high-tech economies.
Plugging the New York 1%ers into the Seattle scenario and not Phoenix is a strong indication that the NHL now admits Plan B is a more viable option. Glendale’s city fathers clearly bought a bill of goods when they initially agreed to the Jobing.com Arena terms. The question now is whether they’re willing to pay what the real price has turned out to be for a civic intangible or admit they’re an outpost in their own metropolitan area.
Whatever they decide, it's already added a fitting chapter to Seattle's quirky hockey history.