It wasn’t so long ago that hockey fans were wondering if the league would even allow a group of investors to apply for an expansion team based in Las Vegas, and now the league has voted on another new market. Today, the NHL’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to accept Seattle’s expansion bid as the 32nd team in the league. The investment group that applied, Oak View Group (OVG), includes Tod Leiweke, former COO of the NFL, Tim Leiweke, former CEO of both Anschutz Entertainment Group—which owns the Los Angeles Kings—and Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment—which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs—and David Bonderman, a Seattle billionaire. The group has had full and public support from Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan throughout the process, and an already approved plan for construction (or renovation, more aptly) of a new arena.
In addition to the experienced upper management, the Seattle group already has veteran NHL head coach Dave Tippett involved in the process. Tippett has previously told reporters that he has no interest in being the first coach of Seattle, though he did leave that door open a crack when he told reporters including Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet that “you never know what will happen.”
Most importantly, the league has announced that the 2021-22 season will be when the Seattle team starts playing. The city had hoped that it could potentially get the arena completed in time for the 2020-21 season, but now will have ample time to get everything ready in time. An expansion draft will take place in June after the 2021 Stanley Cup is awarded, though the Vegas Golden Knights will be excluded from it. The league also announced the realignment plan, which will move the Arizona Coyotes into the Central Division while putting Seattle into the Pacific Division.
Like the previous expansion draft, the Seattle team will select one player from each of the other 30 teams (excluding Vegas) and must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. All first and second-year professionals will be exempt, though who exactly satisfies those qualifications is obviously still up in the air this far out. Once again, every team will have two protection options: seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender.
Though we’re still more than two years out from the expansion draft taking place, you can already pencil in a few players who will be protected due to their no-movement clauses. CapFriendly provides a list of those names, which includes four names from each of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s easy to see how some of these names could give some trouble to their respective teams, though each player is allowed to waive the clause if they so choose. Milan Lucic, Brent Seabrook, Frans Nielsen an others already stand out as players who would potentially be left unprotected if possible, but will take up a slot because of their NMC.
In regards to the team name, Leiweke made it clear that the fans would be taken into consideration when deciding what the franchise will be called, while Bettman hinted that “Metropolitans” will not be allowed because the league already has a division using that name. Seattle will break ground on construction tomorrow on the estimated $800MM arena plans, making this a ~$1.45BB investment when added to the $650MM the group will pay for the franchise. The Seattle Storm of the WNBA will also use the arena, while there is also a push to bring the NBA back to the city.