The Seattle team’s ownership group, led by private equity executive David Bonderman, will invest nearly $1.5 billion to cover the $650 million expansion fee and $800 million to renovate Seattle’s Key Arena, which will be renamed Seattle Center Arena, and to build an off-site practice facility.
“Today is a dream come true really for an entire city,” Seattle Hockey President and CEO Tod Leiweke said at a news conference announcing the deal.
Seattle has gone without a major professional hockey team since the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association folded in 1924. In 1917, that team became the first American club to win the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens.
The prospective ownership group had pushed for the league to allow the team to begin play in 2020 but ultimately agreed to 2021 over concerns about construction time for the renovated arena.
“We all agreed that it was best to get the building done right,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We were certain that we could get the building done right in 2021-22."
The team’s arrival will give the venue its first permanent major tenant since the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. Local boosters have tried for years to bring an NBA franchise back to the city, too.
Seattle fans gathered at Henry’s Tavern, a bar that has become a gathering place for hockey fans during expansion talks, to revel in the NHL’s vote.
“Today is a day for celebration in a great city that adores and avidly supports its sports teams,” Bettman said.
The league will hold an expansion draft for Seattle in June 2021, he said. Each franchise will “protect” a certain number of players, and the new team’s front office will select from the remaining players to form a roster. The Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team last season, will be exempt from the draft.
Hockey executives have previously panned that method of selecting players for a new team, but higher expansion fees — the Golden Knights paid $500 million to join the league — have enticed the NHL to allow teams to protect fewer players than in years past.
In the last expansion draft, teams could protect either 10 skaters (seven forwards and three defensemen) and a goaltender or any eight skaters and goaltender. The process left so much talent available that the Knights immediately became one of the top teams in the Western Conference and played for the Stanley Cup, losing to Washington in five games.
During the league’s previous round of expansion in 2000, teams could protect 14 skaters (nine forwards and five defensemen) and a goalie.
Quebec City had also vied for a franchise to revive the defunct Nordiques, but the commissioner said the league likely was “not looking right now and, I think, for the foreseeable future.”
“Expanding to Seattle makes the NHL more balanced, even more whole and more vibrant,” Bettman said.
Leiweke said the franchise management expects a strong market for season tickets. More than 30,000 people paid $1,000 and $500 deposits during an online sale in March for the right to purchase ticket packages.
“That was a long time ago,” he said.