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Seattle NHL Inaugural Season Up in the Air

KeyArena renovation Oak View Group hockey

While it is gathering momentum toward final approval, the inaugural season of a potential Seattle NHL expansion franchise is still very much up in the air. 

Billionaire David Bonderman and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are leading an effort to bring an NHL expansion franchise to Seattle. Plans call for the team to play its home games at a renovated KeyArena, which is set to receive a privately financed $700 million overhaul led by the Oak View Group that will potentially be completed by October 2020.

The expansion bid was presented to the NHL executive committee on Tuesday, and is expected to be considered by the full NHL board of governors in early December. Approval through that vote appears increasingly likely, but the exact timing of a Seattle NHL inaugural season is uncertain. While the goal for project officials is to complete the KeyArena renovation by 2020 and potentially have the team begin play in the 2020-21 season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman indicated that the league’s approval will not be contingent on that date. He noted that the sooner the team could launch the better, but stated that the NHL is prepared to monitor the renovation project into 2019 before making a firm decision. More from the Seattle Times:

“I think everybody agrees sooner is better,” Bettman said. “But we have to and they have to get comfortable with the timeline as to what’s realistic. Obviously, it would be unfortunate in the extreme if we decided to go at one time and the building wasn’t ready.’’

He added that the league plans to closely monitor the renovation into next year for “variables and trigger points’’ related mostly to construction before ultimately deciding a launch date. If the renovation hits snags that delay the 2020 opening, “then we’ll go with 2021, but I think everybody’s preference would be sooner rather than later.’’

Both Bettman and the Seattle delegation members participating in a Tuesday morning presentation to the NHL’s executive committee said the renovation timeline wasn’t a primary concern. Bettman said the league cares more about the long-term viability of the Seattle market and that’s what the approval vote at the upcoming Dec. 3-4 board of governors meetings in Sea Island, Georgia, will be about.

Should the bid be granted approval in December, waiting to determine the inaugural season would allow for time to see how the KeyArena renovation project is unfolding. The plan is ambitious in scope, as it will completely overhaul the venue to modern NBA and NHL standards. Seattle’s goal is to eventually obtain teams in both leagues, but the ongoing expansion bid is one of the factors that makes the NHL the more imminent possibility.

Rendering courtesy Oak View Group.

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