On Wednesday, Jan. 11, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman made his first visit to Seattle since the news broke that the city would get the league’s next expansion franchise. The trip was designed so that the commissioner could see plans and locations for new facilities firsthand while meeting in person with the local ownership group, Mayor Jenny Durkan, season-ticket depositors, potential investors, Seattle Center staff, and other interest groups.
“In terms of kicking the tires, the tires are in great shape,” joked Bettman to start a press conference at the Space Needle. Flanked by Seattle Hockey Partners President Tod Leiweke and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Bettman took an array of questions that shed some light on Seattle’s NHL future. Most pressing to many fans was discussion of the team name. Leiweke said he expects to unveil it sometime in 2019. He also mentioned that in about 60 days the team would roll out a portal for season-ticket depositors to get feedback on various aspects of the franchise, including the name.
Bettman also announced that the league has “promised an [NHL] All-Star Game to Seattle within seven years of playing.” He also stated that an NHL Draft would also come to Seattle, assuredly before the All-Star Game. While not stated, it would seem incredibly obvious to have Seattle host the draft the first year the franchise has picks: 2021. (Side note: While Leiweke seemed hyper-enthusiastic about hosting a draft — and I’m sure the most hardcore local fans would be too — as someone who’s attended a pro sports draft live, I can affirm that they are just horrendously boring events.) However, Bettman also noted that Seattle probably won’t be getting one of the NHL’s signature outdoor Winter Classic games anytime soon because the outdoor rinks cannot handle rain — obviously a problem with our winter climate.
Seattle Weekly asked Bettman about measures the league is making to build the Seattle hockey infrastructure — an issue raised by those in the local hockey community before the franchise was announced — since the city lacks an abundance of public ice and many locals aren’t super-familiar with the basics of the sport. Bettman’s response:
“First of all, the team has started [the] process by building what will be the first three sheets of ice in Seattle proper with the training facility [in Northgate]. There are a variety of programs. We have a program with USA Hockey, which is Try Hockey For Free. And if you look at what has happened in Dallas or Nashville or the Florida franchises, rinks will get built. And when you build it, they will come. … Registrations for USA Hockey, particularly at the youth level, are at all-time highs. That’s in part a reflection of the fact that the NHL is in more places than it’s ever been before. And when we have franchises, hockey develops at all levels. A good example is Arizona … Auston Matthews, who is one of our star players playing for Toronto, would tell you that if it wasn’t for the Coyotes, he never would’ve played hockey. He wouldn’t be an NHL player. You will see that over time develop. If this franchise is going to be as successful as we know it will be, having the community involved and having hockey at all levels is a good thing.”