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The building challenges for Seattle, Quebec City as NHL markets

Greg Wyshynski
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News that Seattle was in talks for a new arena sent hearts aflutter over the weekend, considering that was a major obstacle for the NHL in considering the Pacific Northwest city as a potential hockey home.

But it's not the only obstacle; and, frankly, it's not even a building being considered for the NHL, as 44-year-old Seattle native and hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen is in talks to help fund an arena to bring back an NBA team.

Stu Hackel of SI.com looked at the Seattle buzz with a critical eye on Tuesday, and comes away with three critiques:

• First, that Gary Bettman's talk of Seattle as an NHL market has been overblown, as it was listed along with Quebec, Kansas City and Las Vegas. (In fairness, deputy commissioner Bill Daly also chummed the waters last May.)

• Next, that Key Arena isn't just a lousy place to watch a hockey game — even on a temporary basis — it's a lousy place with a small seating capacity: 10,000 for an NHL game. And unless you're Winnipeg and could charge to the moon for a small capacity thanks to demand, it'll be hard for Key to turn a profit for hockey.

• Finally, and speaking of demand, Hackel writes:

The truth is, however, there's never really been a lot of local enthusiasm for an NHL team. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer readers' poll in January attracted all of 2,631 respondents, of whom 1,725 replied that they would give an NHL team unqualified support. No, that poll is not sophisticated market research, but would you want to locate a franchise there based on that meager sampling?

Perhaps. What would the polling have been for Dallas back in 1993 when Norm Green robbed Minnesota fans of their North Stars? As it was, the first years of Stars attendance watched things like "deejay dog races, in which local disc jockeys pull 'lucky listeners' around the ice on sleds, and between-periods sumo wrestling" in order to attract the not-yet-hockey fans.

(And just like Dallas, a relocated team means a team that isn't starting from the ground floor; instant success, or some semblance of it, can transform a market quickly. See: Dallas, Denver … and then See: Columbus, Atlanta [RIP].)

Of course, Seattle isn't the only possible destination for an NHL team, nor is it the only one that has building issues. Hackel, on Quebec City, which will have an arena by Fall 2015 at the earliest:

Even if Quebec's arena project meets its target date, and if the Coyotes were to move there instead of Seattle, the team would have to play somewhere else temporarily. The old Colisee is not only small (slightly over 15,000), it has no luxury boxes and needs improvements to make sure the ice holds up in warmer weather because the building has no air conditioning. Those improvements seem to be in the works, or will be when the QMJHL Remparts's season ends. One supposes if the owners wouldn't mind sustaining losses (which François Gagnon of la Presse estimated between $15 and $20 million a year) until the new arena opens, the Colisee could be a temporary home for the Coyotes.

Like Hackel, I'll believe the Coyotes are done in Glendale when I see it. The NHL has invested too much sweat and treasure to not try and make this work, despite the mounting evidence the League's done with the owning the Yotes after this season.

Meanwhile, there is a city with a really nice, NHL-ready building that's waited for the League to place a team there for several years. Now, Kansas City is just getting emo about it: "When Seattle is ahead of you for a pro hockey team, it's time to let that dream go …"

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