Seattle becoming the home of the NHL’s 32nd franchise took another big step forward with the league putting the vote up to the board of governors in December. The board has never turned down an expansion bid and it’s almost certain that Seattle will have the NHL in 2020. On this episode we not only talk about why this is big for Seattle, but is huge for the NHL’s expansion plan and why this could be just the beginning of new NHL franchises.
Who could have predicted this? When the National Hockey League announced that they would be putting the leagues thirty-first franchise in the desert of Las Vegas there were plenty of cynics. Not only was the NHL trying to put another team in the desert then a traditional hockey market, but many saw this as another expansion franchise that it would take years to reach relevancy. Less than a calendar year after the first puck was dropped in Sin City the Vegas Golden Knights and the NHL have hit the jackpot.
It’s fitting to see the Vegas Golden Knights as the team that defied all the odds in their inaugural season. Taking advantage of the new expansion draft the roster was filled with young talent and solid veterans that turned Vegas into the storyline of the season. Even with the early hardships with an injury bug that decimated the team’s goaltending depth the team still finished with one of the league’s best records at 51-24-7. Even with the team falling in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s clear that this team has a bright future.
What people aren’t talking about is what the success in Vegas means for the league’s aggressive expansion plan. Don’t forget that Gary Bettman said he could imagine a 34 team league back in 2017 and the NHL has set a fee for cities looking for an expansion franchise. In fact the league is closing in on team number 32 in Seattle has an ownership group has already started a season ticket drive and the franchise is hoping to hit the ice for the 2020-2021 season.
For a city that wants a major league franchise or looking to add another team the success in Vegas and the generous expansion draft could give a team the opportunity to be competitive from day one. With other league’s not looking into expansion and with expansion teams in the NBA, NFL, and MLB toiling in obscurity for years it makes the NHL a more enticing investment for a city that wants a major league team. Even with a $650 Million expansion fee for a new franchise, it still cheaper to get a NHL franchise then getting and NBA and NFL franchise where recent sales of franchises in those leagues have been valued in the billion dollar range.
Meanwhile, the expansion would be beneficial for the owners in the league. The would receive an expansion fee from these new teams, as they would split up the expansion fees from these cities. With Seattle closing in on a team, it will be interesting to see if there will be any other movement in the NHL whether through expansion or relocation. There have been cities that have expressed interest in both the United States and Canada for potential franchises. These include cities like Quebec, Hamilton, Kansas City, and Hartford who have expressed interest in hosting a hockey franchise.
The success of the Vegas Golden Knights has been huge for the NHL. Not only do they have a successful franchise in a new market, but the league’s new expansion format has set the league up for the potential for the next wave of expansion franchises. No matter how you look at it, it’s clear the Vegas experiment has been a resounding success.
Is their hope for the NHL in Hartford on the horizon? One of the biggest obstacles preventing a team playing in Connecticut’s capital is the lack of a state of the art arena, however that soon may no longer be a problem.
The Hartford Courant has reported that Oak Street Real Estate Capital, a Chicago firm, will submit a proposal to purchase and renovate the city’s arena later this month. The XL Center, formerly the Hartford Civic Center, is one of the oldest facilities in the country and needs a major overhaul. Currently, the arena hosts concerts is home to UConn Basketball, UConn Ice Hockey, and the AHL’s Hartford WolfPack.
The offer to the city of Hartford did outline the plan to renovate the building and planned to put in over $250 Million with the intention of making it a state of the art facility. The state has proposed two options in recent years, one of which was a $250 Million dollar proposal to bring the current property up to a state of the art facility through renovation.The other, and more expensive option, was to completely tear down the existing structure and build a new arena which would have cost $500 Million.
The outline of the deal would be $50 Million upfront from the group to the state, but the state would pay 7.5% of the renovation costs and would be subject to annual increases of two percent. This would mean at the minimum the state would invest roughly $19 Million for the reconstruction. Just to tear down the existing structure would cost $40 Million
The following is a statement from the Oak Street Group on their interest in acquiring the XL Center.
“Our interest in the XL Center stems from our larger goal of revitalizing the Hartford area. We believe that the transformation of the aging arena into a state-of-the art sports and entertainment venue can be the focal point of the city’s redevelopment and spur economic growth.”
Included in this statement, Oak Street it is ready to close on the acquisition of the building in the coming month and would send its proposal to the state for the upcoming request for proposals.
If the XL Center is upgraded to a state of the art facility it could put the city of Hartford in the discussion for a potential NHL team. The good news for hockey fans in Hartford is there are two encouraging trends in the National Hockey League that could eventually help the city land a franchise.
The first is the league’s expansion plan. The league is already looking to add a 32nd franchise in Seattle and after a successful ticket drive, Seattle is inching closer to professional hockey. After the success of hockey in Las Vegas due to a new expansion draft that has given the Golden Knights the quality talent to earn a sweep in the first round the NHL playoffs. With the new expansion plan working it is possible that Hartford could land an expansion franchise rather than relocating an existing team.
The second factor is that Seattle is setting a new arena precedent for attracting an NHL franchise. It was believed that the only way to attract an NHL franchise with a brand new arena. However, if Seattle is awarded an official franchise, it proves that a city can update a pre-existing arena to a modern standard rather than building a new arena. In Seattle, the plan is to extensively remodel Key Arena into a state of the art facility. If the NHL does put a team in Seattle for the 2020 season, it shows that they are willing to put a team in a state of the art facility even if it is not a brand new facility.
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