The Phoenix Coyotes ordeal (more on that in a minute!) coming to and end -- or what seems to at least look kind of like a resolution if you unfocus your eyes and squint a little bit -- seemed, for a fantastical moment, to put to rest the idea of an NHL team playing in Seattle any time soon.
Motivated theoretical buyers or not, the chances that it actually happened always seemed at least a little slim considering how closely the league had held onto Making Hockey Work in a place where hockey is obviously and completely unworkable. The sale of the Coyotes to that shadowy cabal of out-of-town money men looked like it rolled a big stone in front of the cave above which was written "The Seattle Metropolitans or Whatever."
But lo, just two months later, the stone has been rolled away and out has stepped reports of Gary Bettman, gaze averted in supplication to the league's owners begging them to consider allowing the Pacific Northwest to bring into the world an expansion team, with all the fees that would come with it.
Easy to dismiss, at first blush. After all, how many local sports personalities who had pretensions of being plugged in came forth with false news of sales being signed and sealed with the blood of another Shane Doan elbowing victim, delivered by Greg Jamison and a host of others, only to have them evaporate in the hot desert sun? (Jude LaCava, we're looking at you here.)
But then the details got specific: The team would come with an expansion fee of $275 million, about $95 million more than the agreed-to Coyotes sale price. Again, this is reasonable. Expansion costs more than buying a team on the very definition of its last financial legs, and certainly the league is always looking to make current owners richer, as is its ongoing purpose despite all the hockey it plays to distract fans from that fact.
A whole new team? Despite the fact that it would bring the number of teams in the league to a cumbersome 31, that at least gets you a little closer to the 32 needed — and probably targeted — to even out the conferences from their current absurd 16-in-the-East-and-14-in-the-West format.
Back to the mundanities, such an expansion effort would require a "solid" ownership group and a new arena. Both of which we already knew about, though one wonders what, exactly, the league would consider to be "solid" in 2013 given the kind of people it has allowed to get involved in this kind of thing in the near past: actual criminals and, more recently, guys with little more backing than a hope, a history in NHL boardrooms, and an ugly suit. The group that wanted in on the Coyotes is at least one of the current interested expansion bidders.
Obviously the arena thing is theoretically taken care of, as was explored without end during the latest Coyotes ownership shuffle (which I promise I'm getting to), because some people want to build a new arena in the Emerald City that would ideally house both an NBA and NHL team. You'll recall that the Oilers were also recently linked to such a deal because Darryl Katz was being a crybaby about Edmonton's desire to finance an arena.
Oh but here's the kicker on the rumored Seattle expansion: The team would enter the league at the start of 2014-15. You know, like, 15 months from now.
I'm pretty sure you can't build an arena in that amount of time. So the team would instead play in KeyArena, with just 15,200 seats or so to its name, for what? Two seasons? Three? Even more?
Granted, no one is going to have to care about a hypothetical new Seattle team beyond, "Wow isn't it great we have an NHL team?" for at least five years, since expansion teams pretty much stink universally for the first several years of existence, and sometimes more.
While 15,200 seats' worth of revenues are better than the zero Seattle is generating now, isn't this exactly why the NHL is kind of dragging its feet on getting itself entrenched in what would likely be a far more fertile ground for adding another team — in terms of both interest and expansion fees — in Quebec City? The Colisée Pepsi seats almost the same exact number of people as KeyArena and the city is already building an arena purely on spec. Obviously, you'd have to imagine there is going to be an NHL team in this building in the relatively near future, but they will soon have more than a year's head start on Seattle, which hasn't even signed off on a memorandum of understanding for construction yet, meaning that it could be months or more before they even break ground.
But here's the weird part, which, I'm sure should come as no surprise to you, involves the current Coyotes ownership group.
The Board of Governors was supposed to sign off on the deal this week. As of this writing, that hasn't happened yet. Why? Well, according to Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal (who has been right about this kind of thing in the past despite the naysayers), citing two sources, "[S]ome financing for the sale has either not been finalized or has dropped out of the deal." Which would be a problem since the deal has to be finalized by Aug. 5. It is, as of this publication, Aug. 2.
Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona, meanwhile, says the deal is on track. Bill Daly says it's "still moving." Glendale spokeswoman Julie Frisoni says it's "moving forward." But it's starting to look like collar-tugging time is here again in Glendale.
Supposing all the Coyotes stuff goes off without a hitch, which is a hell of a supposition to make given the history, Seattle is apparently where the NHL will turn its Eye of Sauron next, in constant search for the One Market to bring everything it ever wanted in an expansion franchise, and in the Northwest bind them. Hell, that might be the case even if Glendale Deal version Who.Knows? falls through. But from the way it looks right now, there would be as many questions about that market as would exist anywhere else, perhaps more.
But then, I guess you can always count on this league to pursue something other than its most viable option available, because what's the fun in rooting for the favorite, right?
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