In an interesting turn of events in Seattle, King 5 News is reporting that the city will announce a formal agreement with Oak View Group (OVG) to build a $600MM arena at Seattle Center. OVG is a group led by former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, and would propose to have the new building finished by 2020. It’s a big first step towards any potential NHL expansion to the city, and the group already apparently has billionaire David Bonderman as part of their financing group. That could draw interest from the league, as a brand new privately funded arena and strong financial backing is exactly the type of thing they look for in expansion.
The deal would potentially include a 39-year lease with two eight-year options, and would provide the city with tens of millions of dollars for transportation improvements and funding for community needs. While the NBA has apparently said they have no plans to expand right now, it does seem like the plan hinges on professional sports expansion. The NHL would be at the forefront of that, though it likely wouldn’t come for several years.
If the NHL did happen to go to Seattle, it would require another slight re-alignment to the divisional structure. Though the Western Conference still holds one less team than the East and would be the easy place for expansion, the Pacific division would be the likely landing spot for Seattle given its proximity to the other teams. Given Vegas’ entrance into the same division, someone would have to move to the Central division. That would be tough, as the NHL would be hesitant to break up the Edmonton-Calgary rivalry, and Arizona and Vegas are so close to the California-based teams. It would be interesting to see what direction they go—of course, this is predicated on the divisions and league staying the same until 2020, something that isn’t certain until Arizona gets onto stronger footing themselves.
While this is likely a step in the right direction, it by no means signals a definite expansion to Seattle. Though there has been an appetite for a team in the past by both league and market, there are a lot of hoops to still jump through before anything actually happens.