NHL to Seattle unlikely as council votes against arena plan

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discusses some guidelines to the expansion process that came out of the GM meetings in Florida, including rules to make possible new teams immediately more competitive than past expansion teams.

To quote The Office‘s David Brent, “Pipe dreams are good, in a way…Keep the dream alive.”

Alas, an effort to bring the National Hockey League to Seattle appears to be little more than a pipe dream following a 5-4 Seattle City Council vote that effectively squashed hopes of planting a new multi-sport arena in the city’s industrial district Monday.

Council voted against marking out a portion of Occidental Avenue South in Sodo for billionaire Chris Hansen’s half-billion-dollar arena plan in an effort to bring the NBA back to Seattle and a potential NHL franchise.

“​​Today’s city council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal,” Hansen said through a statement on his sonicsarena.com site.

Monday’s vote almost never came to fruition until Seattle mayor Ed Murray pushed for it in January amid opposition to holding it from several city council members. Murray did not sugarcoat the impact of Monday’s vote against Hansen’s plan.

“Today’s council vote makes it less likely that the NBA will return to the city of Seattle,” Murray said in a statement.

Even if the council vote had passed in favour of Hansen’s arena plan, the city faced long odds to land an NHL team. Prospective expansion franchise ownership groups in Las Vegas and Quebec City have been sitting in a holding pattern as the NHL has yet to make a decision on both bids. Those cities have brand new NHL-ready arenas awaiting tenancy.

Seattle council will explore the viability of renovating KeyArena, the former home of the Seattle SuperSonics before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City under nefarious circumstances.

Still, provisions in Hansen’s Memorandum of Understanding with the city and King County could thwart any plans to bring an NHL team to Seattle. Public financing for arena development hinged on the acquisition of an NBA franchise. Furthermore, as The Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker notes, “the deal [MOU] currently reserves it [KeyArena] for Hansen as a temporary home for any future NBA squad he lands.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman intimated that the league would consider Seattle as a potential market in January, so as long as some semblance of a serious bid is in place.

“I happen to think the Seattle market would be intriguing for the NHL at some point, but we’re not sitting around waiting for them to get their act together on an arena,” Bettman said in a guest appearance on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590. “If it happens someday then we’ll deal with it at the time.”

Until then, we’ll continue to sit and wait for a decision on a pair of expansion bids from Las Vegas and Quebec City.

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