The expansion of the National Hockey League into Seattle for the 2021–22 season is on track despite delays in its arena renovation and a disruption in the current and coming season due to coronavirus, an NHL official recently told Sportico.
The still-unnamed team is slated to play in what was the old Key Arena, which is undergoing a $900 million renovation in downtown Seattle conducted by the Oak View Group. The Los Angeles-based arena development and managing firm is also overseeing the $955 million construction of a new arena for the New York Islanders on land adjacent to the historic Belmont Park Racetrack, in Elmont, N.Y.
Although the team lacks a name, the facility will be known as Climate Pledge Arena after Amazon won the naming rights late last month for an undisclosed fee. The building will also host the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
The arena had originally been set to open by June 2021, but because of coronavirus-related construction issues, there may be months of delays, which could fit well anyway into the NHL’s adjusted schedule.
The league opened training camps Monday with the hope of crowning a Stanley Cup champion by October 4 at arenas sans fans in Toronto and Edmonton. Barring continued outbreaks of COVID-19, the 2020–21 season might not begin until December, meaning the 2021–22 season would likely fall into a similar timeframe. The typical NHL season usually begins in early October with the Stanley Cup playoffs ending in June.
The construction and season delays have so far had no effect on the debut of the Seattle franchise.
“None that I’ve heard,” an NHL official said.
In a conference call last weekend, Commissioner Gary Bettman promised a complete 82-game slate next season after the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced the return to play, along with a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement through the 2025–26 season.
“We are planning a full 2020–21 season,” Bettman said. “If we run a little later than usual, [starting next season late] may be one of the consequences. We think it’s important to finish the 2019–20 season, and if we have to start in November or December, so be it. We believe we have the flexibility to do that.”
The NHL expanded into Seattle in 2018, selling the new franchise to billionaire David Bonderman and a group of minority owners for an escalated fee of $650 million. Those funds will be needed and spread evenly around the league to make up for a shortfall of revenue this year that began when Bettman halted play March 12 because of the spreading virus. That was the day Major League Baseball did the same and a day after the National Basketball Association shut down. Bonderman, 77, is also a minority partner of the Boston Celtics.
The Seattle expansion team almost immediately received deposits for 16,000 season tickets in the refurbished building, which will hold 17,300 for hockey. This followed the wildly successful NHL expansion into Las Vegas for the 2017–18 season. The expansion fee at that time was $500 million, and the Golden Knights recently were valued by Forbes at $580 million, 13th highest in the NHL.