Tuesday was historic for hockey fans in Seattle who, sidelined by friends and fellow fans, watched on as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the city would join the league in 2021.
Heading into the winter meetings, there was hope that a team would hit the ice for a 2020 inaugural season but as Tuesday crept closer it became apparent that the league had other plans. And although we may be slightly disappointed at that fact, fans here in Seattle have reason to celebrate as we are now members of an elite club.
We are a city with an NHL hockey team- officially a fanbase.
“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,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “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.”
This process has been one of the NHL’s worst kept secrets and I’m not sure any doubts existed heading into today’s vote. From conversations with GM’s ahead of last years All-Star Game to the reaction following Seattle’s presentation with the league’s executive committee, this has been a done deal for quite some time. And when Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan announced to a packed house at Henry’s Tavern in South Lake Union that the board had unanimously approved, I don’t believe any jaws dropped.
It’s easy to find myself opposing commissioner Bettman but at that moment, I could have hugged him.
“We are pleased the NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously approved Seattle’s application for a franchise,” said David Bonderman, NHL Seattle’s majority owner. “I want to thank Commissioner Bettman and the Board for their endorsement.”
It’s been an amazing couple of days but there is a lot to be done and I fully expect NHL Seattle to hit full stride after the new year.
There don’t appear to be any major changes to the timeline
The 2021 timeframe doesn’t change the Oak View Groups pre-construction timeline but an additional year allows for flexibility when dealing with other major projects- such as the SR 99 Tunnel transition.
“Although the NHL season now won’t start until October 2021, we remain committed to completing the Arena as soon as possible,” said an Oak View Group representative. “recognizing that at the very latest we will be open to welcome the Seattle Storm back for their 2021 season.”
Another question following today’s announcement is whether they will wait a year before hiring a general manager. Originally they had planned to announce a GM roughly 15 months prior to their inaugural season but the group is now entertaining the idea of hiring someone two-years in advance.
The GM discussion is complete speculation at this point and it sounds as though Seattle has yet to engage in preliminary discussions with anyone. With that said, there are a couple candidates that I’m keeping an eye on.
Steve Yzerman has been a household name for decades and is still the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports history. Following his illustrious playing career with the Detroit Red Wings - in which he won three Stanley Cup championships - Stevie Y found himself sitting in the front office.
The Hall-of-Famer had his sights set on the GM role, but with Ken Holland refusing a promotion and assistant GM Jim Nill signing a long-term contract, his chances looked slim.
Meanwhile, the Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis era of the Tampa Bay Lightning was coming to an end and fans were beginning to cash in on the team’s empty promises. The organization found themselves at the bottom of the league with no real solution in sight- requiring drastic changes.
On May 25, 2010, Yzerman was named vice-president and general manager of the Lighting where two months later he would be joined by Tod Leiweke, now CEO of Seattle Hockey Partners.
The two went on to reshape hockey in Tampa and blaze a path for one of the games most dangerous franchises.
In Yzerman’s first year as GM, the Lightning matched their franchise record by compiling a 46–25–11 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time in four years. The team knocked out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Quarterfinals by winning three straight games and swept the top-seeded Washington Capitals.
Although they eventually fell to the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals by a score of 0-1, the season set the tone for a franchise that has since stayed as relevant as anyone and is always in contention for the cup.
Citing the difficulties of balancing family and work, Yzerman stepped down from his GM duties with the Lightning before the start of the season. There is great speculation that he will return to Detroit to replace the now controversial - yet a legend in his own right - Ken Holland as the Red Wings GM.
With his eye for talent and a mixture of analytics and experience, Steve Yzerman is best case scenario for NHL Seattle but far from most likely.
Learning from Vegas - the Kelly McCrimmon edition
If you envisioned the Vegas Golden Knights having a successful first season, you are one of the few. If you saw them going to the Stanley Cup Finals, I don’t believe you.
The magic of their inaugural season is something we will likely never see again - sorry Seattle - but if you are to take a run at replication, it’d be smart to start with the man who made it happen.
Kelly McCrimmon spent 28 years with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL where he served as the minority and eventual sole owner, general manager, and coach between 2004-11 and 2013-16.
His list of accomplishments run deep:
- Two-time WHL champion
- Ten-time Eastern Division champion
- Six-time conference champion
- Five Memorial Cup appearances (Player: 1, GM: 2, GM & Coach: 2)
- WHL Executive of the Year in 1995, 2010 and 2015
- CHL Executive of the Year in 2010
- Compiled a record of 423-223-36-38 over 10 seasons (most wins in Brandon history)
- Assistant for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.
I think it’s fair to say he knows how to spot young talent and when you’re building a team from scratch, having a large prospect pool can set you up for long-term success.
In August 2016, the Vegas Golden Knights capitalized on his knowledge of the game by announcing him as assistant general manager. Leading up to the expansion draft, he scoured the league with General Manager George McPhee for undervalued players and built a Stanley Cup contending team by finding leverage over other GM’s. Having just gone through this process and learning from previous mistakes, teams are less likely to fall victim to backroom deals which may make things more difficult for the future Seattle GM.
“When we had our opportunity with expansion, it had been 17 years since the last expansion,” McCrimmon told NHL.com following Tuesdays announcment. “This time around, most people are going to have the experience of having been through this one time and that will help with their preparation.”
I don’t know if there is a more qualified individual for this role than McCrimmon.
There are other names to keep an eye on, such as Bill Zito of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Laurence Gilman with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but these two are my golden eggs. Steve Yzerman and Kelly McCrimmon are both progressive hockey minds who could help set Seattle up for long-term success.