Move Over Quebec City, Here Comes Seattle

On Monday the Seattle City Council approved plans for a new $490 million arena giving Quebec City some serious competition for any potential relocation of an existing franchise and the NHL a viable American site for future expansion to 32 teams.

While it may seem strange to be talking about the possibility of the NHL in Seattle with the league at war with its players, eventually an agreement will be reached and the hockey landscape will return to normal. Quebec City seemed to be the clear frontrunner as a safe haven for any current team needing to move but yesterday’s announcement has added a strong contender to the mix. Quebec City still has many more ducks in a row with a potential owner already lined up, shovels about to go into the ground and a much more suitable temporary site available if needed. With that said, it would be foolish to dismiss Seattle’s chances at landing a troubled team over Quebec City as it is a much larger market and it is in America, which might be advantageous for a current US-based owner looking to hold on to his team while simply moving it to a more financially viable locale instead of selling out to the highest bidder.

Luckily for Quebec City, landing an NBA team seems to be priority one for Seattle. My understanding of the deal is the arena will not get built unless an NBA tenant is secured beforehand. Would the city being willing to construct the arena if an NHL team signs on first? That’s an interesting question especially with Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz in Seattle yesterday. It seems highly unlikely that the Oilers would leave Edmonton and that this tour was simply a negotiating tactic in Katz’s arena battle with the city of Edmonton. With it looking more and more like the Coyotes are staying in Glendale, Quebec City and Seattle may have to fight it out for the Islanders whose lease at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum expires in 2015 or wait for the NHL to expand again.

So how would Seattle fare as a hockey town? I think it would be a welcome addition to the NHL map. It is really the only American market without a team that makes a lot of sense to me. Seattle has a richer hockey tradition than most people realize. Playing out of the PCHA, the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American based team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. They also played for the Cup in 1919 (series was cancelled) and 1920 (lost to the original Ottawa Senators). The Seattle Totems were a long time member of the Western Hockey League (the loop which helped pushed the NHL to expand in 1967) winning titles in 1959, 1967 and 1968. Vince Abbey was actually awarded an NHL expansion team to begin play in 1976 but had trouble securing the necessary financing and the NHL pulled the team. During the 1990 expansion process which saw Tampa Bay and Ottawa gain admittance, Seattle was considered a clear frontrunner until Bill Ackerley (son of SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley) torpedoed his group’s bid by withdrawing it without the knowledge of his partners, Chris Larson and former Totem Bill MacFarland. This was seemingly done to keep the NHL out of Seattle, as soon after, KeyArena was extensively remodeled to be basketball specific and not suitable for NHL hockey. Had Larson and MacFarland not combined bids with Ackerley, Seattle would likely be celebrating 20 years in the league. The junior Seattle Thunderbirds have called the city home since 1977 although they moved to suburban Kent in 2009. So, the NHL has seriously flirted with Seattle a couple times before, perhaps the two will finally consummate the relationship in the near future.

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