NHL is set to announce expansion no later than June

The rumors of a NHL expansion franchise to Seattle are looking more like reality than rumor after Geoff Baker’s latest article in the Seattle Times — warning, that link is behind a pay wall. According to his newest article, the NHL is expected to sign a letter of intent with one of three potential ownership groups, and officially announce expansion by no later than June, 2014.

According to Baker’s article, Seattle could be awarded an expansion franchise by no latter than June, 2014:

“Many expect the NHL to award a letter of intent no later than June, at which time the league and chosen ownership group would hold a news conference announcing they plan to bring hockey to Seattle.”-Baker

This rumor comes on the heals of a very successful trip by a delegation of sports, business and political leaders returned from their trip to Vancouver, B.C. This group spent a lot of time touring the B.C Sports Hall of Fame; the delegation even took in a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues.

This trip was supposedly organized to help build sports business relationships between Seattle and Vancouver…and NHL expansion talks were heavily discussed.

There are three ownership groups that the NHL is currently talking to, and one of them is rumored to be led by billionaire Steve Ballmer. If it’s Ballmer that lands the expansion franchise, than the team would be able to start playing in the new SODO Arena by the 2016-17 season. Which means that the new team would spend a season playing at the 11,000 seat Key Arena for its first season.

In fact, no matter which ownership group is wins the franchise; the team will probably spend its first season in Key Arena anyways. This includes Don Levin — who wants to put an arena in Bellevue:

“The other option could see Levin, owner of the AHL Chicago Wolves, go ahead with his stated preference to build an arena in Bellevue and have a new franchise play there. Sources have said the Bellevue option is not dead yet and much will depend on the political climate in months ahead.”-Baker

If you remember, it has been rumored that Levin has wanted to build a hockey arena in Bellevue since late 2008.’

Personally, my money is on Ballmer being the one who is agrees to purchase an expansion franchise. His involvement in the negotiations for the SODO Arena, means that he can’t sit aside and let someone else possibly get an arena deal done that could torpedo the one he has. And I can see him willing to pay a substantial expansion fee to guarantee that he is the one who gets the team.

This probably [more than likely] means that the public’s portion of the financing for the arena is going to shrink.

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