Is NHL stalling on expansion to get Seattle involved again?

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FILE -- In this June 14, 2012, file photo, investor Chris Hansen speaks to supporters of a proposal for a new NBA arena during a rally in Seattle. Hansen told The Associated Press on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, that no one in his ownership group has interest in being the majority owner of a hockey franchise even as rumors continue to circulate about the NHL having interest in Seattle as a possible market in the future. Hansen says the focus of his group is getting all environmental reviews finished on their proposed arena so that if an NBA franchise becomes available via sale or expansion, Seattle can be at the front of the line ready to go. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE -- In this June 14, 2012, file photo, investor Chris Hansen speaks to supporters of a proposal for a new NBA arena during a rally in Seattle. Hansen told The Associated Press on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, that no one in his ownership group has interest in being the majority owner of a hockey franchise even as rumors continue to circulate about the NHL having interest in Seattle as a possible market in the future. Hansen says the focus of his group is getting all environmental reviews finished on their proposed arena so that if an NBA franchise becomes available via sale or expansion, Seattle can be at the front of the line ready to go. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The NHL isn’t going to approve expansion at next month’s Board of Governors meeting. There’s some thought that an announcement could arrive at the NHL All-Star Weekend in January, but there’s nothing concrete. 

If you feel like the League is taking its sweet time with the franchise future for Las Vegas and Quebec City – the only two applicants to meet the financial and facility requirements for landing expansion teams – you’re not alone. Seattle Times columnist Geoff Baker notes that the NHL’s delay syncs up with a crucial vote on Chris Hanson’s SoDo arena project in Seattle.

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Is the NHL still hoping Seattle steps up with a solid expansion bid?

From Baker: 

That vote, on granting Hansen part of Occidental Avenue South for his arena, is expected by January. No one knows how it will go, only that the lead-up should be politically charged and fiercely contested.

But passing it — future legal appeals notwithstanding — paves the way for Hansen to obtain his Master Use Permit and have his arena “shovel ready” should he choose to build. And that means, once a vote passes, it’s entirely possible the NHL could conditionally award Seattle an expansion team.

But even if the arena problem is solved, it’s not really solved. Hanson’s public funding is cleared for an arena with an NBA tenant, but not for an NHL-first arena. Can that change?

And Hanson has shown no interest in owning an NHL team. He’d need someone like Los Angeles real-estate magnate Victor Coleman to step up to own one, and we’re back to the basic issue with Seattle’s potential bid: Would Coleman ante up $500 million for a team and help fund the arena and have enough money left over to, like, hit the salary floor?

While Gary Bettman has said the expansion process is restricted to Las Vegas and Quebec City, he’s identified the arena situation as the major issue with any Seattle bid. Baker thinks the potential for shovels in the ground could be enough for a second chance for Seattle:

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told me last April that “steel in the ground” is what he wants as far as arenas go. But having Sodo approved could be enough.

The NHL could also insist Hansen and Coleman finalize their financial deal before agreeing even conditionally to expand. Either way, pass the vote, get a “hockey first” deal done and the NHL likely expands to Sodo and Las Vegas by the 2018-19 season.

It’s still a long-shot. Seattle has a whole lotta “what ifs” while Las Vegas has an owner, an arena, proof of concept in ticket sakes and no other competition (which remains a rather large pachyderm in the room for Seattle).

I believe the NHL will be in Las Vegas. I believe it has serious reservations about Quebec City, but it’s a solid applicant. I believe it wants to be in Seattle perhaps most of all, but is it willing to wait to see if the arena, the funding and the ownership come through when the moment to expand is now?

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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