Rumors of an expansion NHL franchise have sent the Seattle sports community into a frenzy. These fans have spent the days since Baker’s report trying to decipher what a potential expansion franchise would mean for the Seattle Arena; after all, it is unlikely that the NHL would be negotiating an expansion fee if the Key Arena were to be the team’s permanent home.
The Memorandum of Understanding between Chris Hansen and the City of Seattle is currently designed to kick in the public financing once a NBA franchise is acquired. In fact, the specific language in the agreement says that the signers are anticipating running the arena with a NBA franchise before the NHL shows up:
“The Parties anticipate that an NHL Team will be committed to play in the Arena after the date on which the NBA Team is acquired and committed to play in the Arena. ArenaCo anticipates that it will proceed with the Project and, if necessary, operate the Arena during the period between the acquisition of the NBA Team and the NHL Team. The Parties recognize that the value of the Arena to the City and the County will be greater upon the commitment of an NHL Team to play in the Arena.”-Seattle Arena MOU
While that doesn’t sound very promising for the NHL, there are signs that a NHL first option could be easily negotiated within the Umbrella Agreement — the Umbrella Agreement is the finalization of the MOU that makes the arena shovel ready. The biggest of these signs is that the Umbrella Agreement is another period of negotiations between the parties; and you have to believe that a NHL first option is going to come up.
In fact, there already might be a NHL first option that has been agreed upon in principle and the parties are just waiting until the final EIS to come out in a couple of weeks to formally announce the amendment to the MOU/UA.
The biggest indicator of a back room deal for a NHL first option is the fact that the league had Seattle as the back-up plan if everything fell apart in Glendale, Az: the Coyotes would have played at Key Arena until the new building was finished being built. This means that the league was extremely confident that the new building could be built, even though there was no NBA team acquired at the time.
Despite the fact that the Coyotes are staying in Glendale, the NHL apparently remains very confident that the new arena will be built. If they weren’t confident about the arena getting built for a NHL team, then I highly doubt that they would be willing to negotiate an expansion franchise with any one of the rumored ownership groups.
The idea that the SODO Arena could get built for a NHL team should be a huge relief for basketball fans; because if the arena gets built, the five-year ticking clock on that is the legal life frame of the agreement is gone. . After the arena gets built Hansen would have all the time in the world to acquire a NBA franchise.
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