By Michael Simeona
When Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced their proposal for a new $500 million sports arena in the SoDo neighborhood earlier this week, hope and optimism were renewed for local sports fans hoping for an NBA and NHL team. Those feelings were shared by one national hockey reporter who thinks Seattle is now the favorite to land an NHL franchise.
Craig Custance, an NHL reporter for ESPN.com, wrote in his Insider blog (note: you must have an ESPN Insider account to read the article) on Friday that “if there were any doubts” Seattle has moved to the front of the NHL’s relocation wishlist “they were erased when Seattle announced Christopher Hansen’s proposal to build a new arena.” While cities like Quebec City and Toronto have been cited as possible destinations for a new NHL team, Custance thinks Seattle has jumped to the top of the list for a relocated franchise.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Having moved the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, I don’t think the league is necessarily that thrilled with the idea of sending another team north of the border,” Custance told “Brock and Salk” on Friday.
“If you’re the league you have to look at the big picture, and you still want to teams in these strategically placed American-based markets. I think that’s important to the league and I think that’s important to [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman, and I think that’s why Seattle is in the driver’s seat.”
Another reason why the NHL might want to add another franchise in the Pacific Northwest is the immediate rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks. According to Custance, the idea of a regional rivalry between the Canucks and a future Seattle team is very appealing to the league.
“The idea of possibly rekindling or starting a rivalry between a Seattle-based NHL team and a Vancouver-based NHL team has to be really appealing for the NHL, and I think this arena news basically propels Seattle to the top of the list of possible relocation or expansion teams for the NHL,” Custance said.
The most immediate option for Seattle to land a team is the Phoenix Coyotes, who’ve been owned by the NHL for the past three seasons. Although the league has been looking at potential owners to keep the team in Arizona, they’re expected to look elsewhere if the situation doesn’t improve soon.
“If you look at how hard they’ve tried to keep them there, that just shows you how interested they are in trying to make the Coyotes work in Phoenix. It’s going to come to a head by the end of this year but whether or not they are going to move for sure is still 50-50 at this point,” Custance explained.
As local hockey fans hope for the demise of the Coyotes in Arizona, knowing an arena plan is in the works is something they can cling to for now.
“This is a big first step for Seattle,” Custance said.