With expansion talk ramping up, you are all but guaranteed to encounter discussion concerning the viability of the Seattle region as a hockey market. We saw it with Florida and Anaheim in ‘93, Nashville in ‘98, Atlanta in ‘99, Columbus in 2000, and most recently in Las Vegas. The relocation of teams such as Hartford to North Carolina and Minnesota to Dallas brought on a similar discourse, which included immense criticism of the league and their desire to reach non-traditional markets.
As a fan who grew up two hours north of an original six team, I have never held doubts concerning the success of hockey in Seattle — there is nothing “non-traditional” about this region.
Emily Kaplan, an NHL reporter at ESPN, released an in-depth piece this morning which covered every aspect of hockey in the city. With a resume that includes the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, and now ESPN, it’s safe to assume she knows a thing or two about the sport. Good news for fans in Seattle, as the city received nothing short of praise.
The article begins by discussing the city’s history with the sport, including the 1917 Stanley Cup Champion Seattle Metropolitans.
She eventually turns the page to the present by covering the region’s potential with former Thunderbird Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the race for the NHL’s Calder Trophy — an award given to the league’s rookie of the year.
Emphasis was placed on the untapped market, which she describes as “bursting.”
“The Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips play just 30 miles north of Seattle. When the Silvertips and Thunderbirds play at the same time, as many as 12,000 people are attending hockey games in the area at once -- and that’s simply to watch juniors.”
Of course, an article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the current situation revolving around the Sonics.
“It’s especially a shame that the Sonics left just as Seattle was having its moment. A tech boom is heralding record growth. From April 2015 to 2016, for example, Seattle and its surrounding counties added 86,320 new residents, according to a report from The Puget Sound Regional Council.”
She learned, just as we have, that Mayor Durkan is not going to stop until a team hits the court.
Kaplan goes on to discuss naming and broadcast rights as well as the impact a team will have on youth participation in the area — specifically facility access.
I recently had a discussion with USA Hockey Director for the Pacific District, Kristopher Knauss, who described the challenges presented by an influx of participation, but had mentioned that USA Hockey will provide guidance and support and it is safe to assume that an NHL team would do the same.
“The NHL program is directly impacting USA hockey youth programs by donation,” Knauss told me. “There is no question access is going to a large issue if an NHL club comes into Washington.”
Kaplan touches on a solution as she discusses the potential for an NHL practice facility which would most likely also house youth and adult programs.
“The new NHL team in Seattle would need to build a practice facility -- ideally on the east side of town -- which would be Stage 1.”
The next step in the process involves a season ticket drive, that is expected to begin in the first half of February. When Kaplan asked Mayor Durkan what would happen if the Oak View Group failed to meet their goal, her response was simple. “That’s not going to happen.”
Exactly two hours after the article released, the mayor sent a jab to the Vancouver Canucks as she expressed her excitement.
The mayor’s official statement, regarding her visit with the NHL, was posted on Twitter by Chris Daniels of KING 5.
The most important quote of the day?
“The Sonics Rising folks and the Sonics deserve a lot of credit, because they kept the idea of the arena alive,” Durkan says. “And without an arena, you can’t have a hockey team. So by keeping that at the forefront, having it work now that you can have hockey and hopefully basketball, is great.”
Hey Seattle, hockey is coming.