The NHL formally opened the door to expansion. Commissioner Gary Bettman said at league meetings in Las Vegas Wednesday that applications from interested owners and cities will be taken from July 6 through Aug. 10, although teams likely would not begin play until the 2017-18 season.
Bettman mentioned Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City as having the most interest. But Seattle, in terms of an NHL arena, is a deep third behind the other two, which have arenas underway with no promise of a team.
The Seattle market has two competing plans: One is by Seattle native Chris Hansen, which has been underway for four years but has not made a formal pitch to city officials, who are participants, for a hockey team ahead of a basketball team. The other one is recent, by Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek, who has bought land in Tukwila and plans to build his project without public funding.
The NHL has not expanded since 2000, but a new collective bargaining agreement and a new TV contract has caused Bettman to place an expansion fee of $500 million, considered steep for a league that two years ago had franchise sales for under $200 million.
Both arena projects are said to be around $500 million, meaning that the total investment is about $1 billion.
Hansen said he has no interest in hockey by himself, but would be willing to partner with a prospective NHL owner as long as he accepts the terms and conditions set forth by the city and King County. Bartoszek considered partnering with Hansen, but broke away to go on his own.
Another interested NHL owner, Victor Coleman, also has not yet reached any deal with Hansen.
The NHL is excited about the Seattle market, far larger than Las Vegas and Quebec City, and in the West where the 30-team league needs two teams to make pair of 16 team conferences.
But a viable arena project trumps all, and the market has yet to green-light one.