Oilers in Seattle to consider possible relocation


EDMONTON — With plans for a new arena in doubt, the Edmonton Oilers say they are keeping their options open.

Oilers owner Daryl Katz, team president Patrick LaForge and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe were in Seattle on Monday for meetings about a possible relocation to the city.

The Oilers said in a statement that they still hope to reach a deal with Edmonton on a new arena. But with talks at an impasse and the team’s current lease at aging Rexall Place set to expire in 2014, the Oilers have begun to look elsewhere.

"As the City of Edmonton is aware, the Katz Group has been listening to proposals from a number of potential NHL markets for some time," the statement read. "After more than four years of trying to secure an arena deal and with less than 24 months remaining on the Oilers’ lease at Rexall Place, this is only prudent and should come as no surprise."

The team added it would not comment on discussions with other potential markets.

The visit by Oilers brass came the same day that Seattle City Council approved hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen’s plan for a US$490-million arena that both sides hope will be home to an NBA and NHL team.

Seattle’s hockey market is limited to the Western Hockey League’s Thunderbirds. The city hasn’t had a professional team since the Metropolitans, who won a Stanley Cup in 1917, were disbanded in 1924.

The Oilers and the City of Edmonton had agreed on plans for a proposed $475-million cost-shared arena that would begin construction early next year.

But the arena and the Oilers’ future in Edmonton were thrown into doubt earlier this month when the team told city councillors it wanted millions of dollars in new concessions from taxpayers.

That prompted Mayor Stephen Mandel to ask Katz to appear before council in a public session to explain the new demands, but Oilers owner declined.

The original deal for a new 18,400-seat arena in Edmonton was agreed to last October and was to be funded mostly by taxpayers.

The city would have paid $125 million, although councillors have since been told that land sales and interest will boost that figure to more than $300 million. That number also doesn’t include millions more in transportation development.

The Oilers were to pay operating costs for the facility along with $5.5 million a year for 35 years to help fund construction. In return, the team was to get all profits from Oilers games, trade shows and concerts for 11 months out of the year, along with naming rights worth an estimated $1 million annually.

The team would have also received $20 million over 10 years from the city for advertising.

Councillors were told in a closed door meeting Katz wants $6 million per year from taxpayers to offset the cost of running the building, along with other concessions.

When details of the meeting were leaked to the public, Katz said the $6 million was always part of the deal.

"To suggest I tried to change the deal at the last minute is really unfortunate," Katz told a sports radio show.

Councillors disagreed, noting the subsidy clause is not part of the original agreement.