The much-anticipated Seattle NHL expansion team has officially been approved, with the NHL announcing plans on Tuesday for a 2021 launch. This comes as the result of unanimous vote today by the league’s board of governors.
Backed by an ownership group that is led by billionaire David Bonderman, the Seattle NHL squad will begin play in the 2021-22 season at a renovated KeyArena. While backers of the expansion bid targeted a start date as early as 2020, the $700-million overhaul led and financed by Oak View Group will be a massive undertaking that modernizes the venue to NBA and NHL standards. There have been some questions about whether the project will be completed by October 2020, so the league has announced the club for a 2021 launch.
Seattle will enter the league as its 32nd franchise. Its ownership will pay a $650-million expansion fee, topping the $500 million figure paid by the Vegas Golden Knights prior to their launch in the 2017-18 season.
“Today is an exciting and historic day for our League as we expand to one of North America’s most innovative, beautiful and fastest-growing cities,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press statement. “We are delighted to add David Bonderman, Tod Leiweke and the entire NHL Seattle group to the National Hockey League family. And we are thrilled that Seattle, a city with a proud hockey history that includes being the home for the first American team ever to win the Stanley Cup, is finally joining the NHL.”
The NHL is planning a realignment to accommodate Seattle. The yet-to-be-named Seattle squad will compete in the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes shifting to the Central Division. That move will take effect with the 2021-22 season, and the NHL indicated in Tuesday’s announcement that it will be the only realignment taking place.
For the NHL, the arrival of Seattle will solve a geographical imbalance by providing a 16th club in its Western Conference. It will also bring the league back to an even number of teams, as the circuit has competed with 31 clubs since Vegas began play last year. Vegas was added as part of an expansion process that was at one point expected to include Quebec City, but the NHL deferred that bid in 2016, citing issues such as the geographical imbalance and concerns over the Canadian dollar.
Seattle, meanwhile, can officially plan for another major sports franchise that will add to a scene that already includes MLB’s Mariners, the NFL’s Seahawks, and MLS’s Sounders. This will be the first NHL team to play in Seattle, but the city has a rich tradition of hockey that includes the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans, who in 1917 became the first United States-based team to win the Stanley Cup.
The KeyArena project is also expected to spur more discussions of Seattle obtaining its first NBA franchise since the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. As noted, the project will bring the arena to modern NBA and NHL standards, but the NHL has always been viewed as Seattle’s more imminent possibility. The NBA has not announced expansion plans and for now lacks a serious relocation candidate.
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