NHL coming to Seattle: Board approves expansion team

SEATTLE — It’s official – the NHL has approved an expansion team for Seattle, but the first game at KeyArena will happen a year later than first thought -- 2021.

PHOTOS: What the renovated KeyArena could look like

PHOTOS: What the new Northgate NHL practice facility will look like

As expected, the NHL Board of Governors, made up of 31 team owners from the US and Canada, voted for Seattle to get the 32nd franchise for the 2021-2022 season.

"Today is a historic moment in Seattle sports history," said Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle. "Our fans are at the core of this movement to bring an NHL team to Seattle and today we celebrate in honor of them."

A year ago this week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the NHL would consider taking an expansion application from Seattle.

Ten months after that, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and an executive committee recommended Seattle be approved for a team. The deal was officially sealed in a Tuesday morning board vote in Sea Island, Georgia.

Durkan led the city's pitch for the NHL to choose Seattle, and it worked.

The mayor told KIRO 7 her effort came from her heart as a hockey fan. She was one of 32,000 fans who scrambled to put a down payment on tickets online.

Now that the decision is official, the Seattle ownership group will need to wire a $100 million down payment to the NHL league office in New York, but that's only part of the record $650 million the group will have to pay the NHL as a franchise fee to get a team.

“The money is sitting in an outbox in the back, and there’s a big red button next to it, and the second the Board of Governors says yes, we get to hit send, and they get their money,” Len Potter with Seattle NHL joked.

But fans should not save the date for the puck to drop at the KeyArena in 2020, as NHL Seattle had projected.

KIRO 7 found that the arena could not legally be renovated until the NHL voted yes, and even if crews worked around the clock starting Wednesday, when the official groundbreaking is now scheduled, officials said the arena might not be NHL-ready until 2021.

If the league had forced Seattle to play in 2020, the team would have to start the first few weeks on the road.

"There's some pretty smart hockey advisors saying, 'If you can get an additional year to build this, you'll do right by your fans,'" said Leiweke.

Waiting to start until 2021 will give workers more time to finish and polish the $700 million renovation. Officials say it will also give owners extra time to scout which NHL players they'd want to draft.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, in October, NHL Seattle outlined plans for a 180,000-square-foot practice facility on the property of Northgate Mall.

It will have team offices and a practice rink, plus two more rinks for community events such as youth hockey.

Leiweke said practice facilities matter for recruiting top players and winning championships.

"The ultimate dream of this facility is bringing the Cup back to Seattle," Leiweke said.

Like the $700 million rebuild of KeyArena, the $70 million practice facility will be privately financed.

It's planned for the east side of the Northgate Mall property and is slated to be completed in 2021.

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