The board of governors of the National Hockey League (NHL) awards an expansion franchise to Seattle on December 4, 2018. The move expands the NHL to 32 teams in North America. The new team is scheduled to begin play in October 2021, with the newly remodeled Seattle Center Arena (formerly KeyArena) as its home venue. The announcement is made at Sea Island, Georgia, with the Seattle ownership group, led by NHL Seattle CEO and president Tod Leiweke (b. 1960), in attendance.
Hockey Roots Run Deep
The Seattle Metropolitans were the first hockey team to play for Seattle, racking up 112 wins against 96 losses over nine seasons. They earned distinction as the first American team to win the Stanley Cup when they defeated the fabled Montreal Canadiens in 1917. Home games were played at the Seattle Ice Arena, located downtown at 5th Avenue and University Street.
The Metropolitans folded in 1924, when the Ice Arena was converted to a parking garage. But by 1928, a new venue, Civic Ice Arena, on Mercer Street, hosted a new Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) franchise, the Seattle Eskimos. In their first season, the Eskimos under the leadership of former Metropolitan Jack Walker finished in second place out of four teams. The Eskimos played for two more seasons, before declining attendance and rising costs led to their disbanding.
Yet another team, the Sea Hawks, followed two years later as part of the Northwest Hockey League (NWHL). The owners sold the team in 1940. Hockey enjoyed one more season in 1940-1941 with the Olympics, and then Seattle went without pro hockey for most of the 1940s, until the PCHL went professional again in 1948. Teams named the Ironmen, Bombers, and Americans represented Seattle in various iterations until 1958, when the team name was changed to the Seattle Totems. The Totems enjoyed a long run, winning three Western Hockey League championships before folding in 1975.
A pair of junior teams, the Seattle Breakers and the Seattle Thunderbirds, have represented the city in more recent years. The Thunderbirds (also known as the "T-Birds") began in 1971 and played home games at KeyArena until 2008, when they relocated to the ShoWare Center in Kent.
Local Support on the Big Day
On December 4, 2018, the day of the announcement at the NHL's Board of Governor's meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, NHL Seattle president Tod Leiweke noted the groundswell of support for a new team to Seattle. It took only 12 minutes for the franchise to receive its first 10,000 deposits for season tickets.
"Today I think about the fans. I woke up today thinking about the fans and what did they feel on March 1 when they put down [ticket] deposits not knowing anything. No team name, an ownership group they didn't know very well. A building plan that was back then somewhat defined but fairly vague. Today was a great day for the fans and we owe them so much because that's why today happened" ("History on Hand ...").
The franchise was awarded to an ownership group, Seattle Hockey Partners, led by co-founders and co-majority owners David Bonderman (b. 1942) and Jerry Bruckheimer (b. 1943). The team will compete as a member of the NHL's Pacific Division in the Western Conference, serving to balance out the Western Conference with 16 teams, the same as the Eastern Conference.
Following the vote, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the new franchise had the "three pillars" for success: "Terrific and committed ownership, a thriving market and a state-of-the-art venue" (Belson).
In the months leading up to the franchise announcement, Bruckheimer, a Hollywood film producer, recalled how as a boy he attended Game 7 of the 1954 Stanley Cup Final to see his hometown Detroit Redwings beat the Montreal Canadiens. His passion for the sport carried over. "It just got in my blood," he said. He likened the game to his own work making films: "It's show business ... any way you want to look at it we're entertainers" ("Jerry Bruckheimer ...").
The cost for the expansion franchise was steep: a record $650 million, eclipsing the $500 million paid for the Vegas Golden Knights before the 2017-2018 season.
For the new team's venue, the remodeled KeyArena at the Seattle Center, will have a seating capacity of 17,400 for hockey. Plans to have the team begin play in the 2020-2021 season had to be moved back to the 2021-2022 campaign because of a tight construction schedule on the $700 million arena remodel.
In anticipation of the franchise award in late 2018, The Seattle Times polled readers about a name for the new team. A total of 146,144 votes were cast over a month, with "Sasquatch," "Freeze," "Grunge," and "Kraken" as contenders for the title. The most popular name -- "Seattle Sockeyes" -- received 37,500 votes. The team was scheduled to reveal its new name in January 2020. Meanwhile, fan expectations were running red-hot, with more than 33,000 deposits placed for season tickets -- more than two years before the first puck was scheduled to drop.