At the beginning of the 2017-18 season, the Vegas Golden Knights were generating plenty of chatter about their sparkling inaugural campaign. Initially, Vegas’ success opened the door for other expansion franchises: The possibility of additional NHL franchises in Quebec City, Seattle, and Houston piqued fans’ interest more than ever.
Fast forward five months, and Vegas is currently sitting near the top of the NHL’s Western Conference. With 10 games remaining in their season, Sin City’s presence in the playoffs is a near certainty. They’ve shattered almost every positive North American sports expansion team record and have surprised many with their rapid rise. However, even as the team gears up for a historic postseason appearance, the eyes of expansion have turned toward another region—the Pacific Northwest. A new franchise would foster new local rivalries, benefitting local fans—and the league as a whole, while also catering to the needs of hockey enthusiasts in an underserved market.
In early December, the Seattle City Council approved a plan to make Seattle’s KeyArena capable of hosting an NHL franchise, a project set to be completed in 2020. Finding a suitable arena was the final hurdle in the city’s quest for a team. In February, the Oak View Group submitted an application and down payment to the league to begin forming a team—a request that was promptly granted—and earlier this month, the ownership group performed a season ticket drive in order to evaluate public interest in professional hockey. Ten thousand deposits were received in just 12 minutes, and by the hour mark, that number reached 25,000. Basically, Seattle is all but guaranteed to get a team by 2020 at the earliest.
Though the road to the next expansion team seems clear, challenges remain or Seattle. Any delay in the arena’s construction would result in a delay of their inaugural season. Beyond that, Vegas has set a lofty standard for potential new teams, meaning that Seattle’s franchise will face pressure to perform in their inaugural season. If they aren’t as good as the Golden Knights, then they may lose fan support and struggle to turn a profit.
Still, there is no logical reason to believe that they won’t succeed. One year ago, the Golden Knights selected their players under the laxest expansion draft rules in NHL history, and Seattle has already been guaranteed the same rules should they reach that stage. Beyond drafting, much of Vegas’ hockey success has come from selecting General Manager George McPhee and hiring Head Coach Gerard Gallant, both of whom have been massively successful. Every season, franchises with lofty expectations fire top GMs and coaches, allowing other teams to scoop them up. That is exactly what happened with Gallant and McPhee and will likely happen to someone in 2020 as well. Seattle should have no problem finding a talented management staff.
The main reason that a new NHL franchise in Seattle would be significant is the degree to which it would revitalize the Seattle sports market, and in many ways, that of the entire Pacific Northwest. In past decades, the region’s once-prolific sports market has fallen on hard times. The region lost two NBA clubs in the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001, and the Seattle Supersonics seven years later. These departures left just one team from each of the four major leagues across the three major cities of Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. None of the teams in the area have any close rivals due to their relative isolation from the rest of North America, and therefore must spend more on air travel than any other franchises. The presence of an NHL team in Seattle would give the Vancouver Canucks a regional rivalry. The SuperSonics were a popular team that left largely because of stadium concerns, so with a revamped KeyArena they could easily return soon after 2020—giving the Portland Trail Blazers their own regional rival, too.
Having an NHL team would be beneficial for Seattle—and the entire Pacific Northwest. Very soon, the league will add its 32nd team. From all signs in Vegas’ first season, this move should succeed, and the NHL can even learn that it is, indeed, safe to expand in areas other than the Southern United States.