Seattle becomes NHL’s 32nd team after league approves expansion bid

It’s official — Seattle will be home to the NHL’s 32nd team.

The NHL confirmed the news Tuesday after the board of governors voted unanimously in favour of the decision in Sea Island, Ga.

“Today is an exciting and historic day for our league as we expand to one of North America’s most innovative, beautiful and fastest-growing cities,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And we are thrilled that Seattle, a city with a proud hockey history that includes being the home for the first American team ever to win the Stanley Cup, is finally joining the NHL.”

The ownership group, led by majority stakeholder David Bonderman, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke, will pay a $650-million US expansion fee. By comparison, the Vegas Golden Knights paid a $500-million fee two years ago.

The team will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

The Seattle ownership group had hopes of being ready for 2020, but with an $800-million renovation to KeyArena — the former home of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) — and an unclear completion date, all parties involved decided the later date would be ideal.

Seattle submitted its application for expansion in February, and said they have already secured more than 30,000 deposits for season tickets.

Conferences evened up

What the Seattle franchise will do is add a 16th team to the Western Conference, matching the number in the East.

It seems as though the NHL has been itching for expansion since its major division realignment before the 2013-14 season.

That year, the league moved to four total divisions, with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West.

With Vegas joining before the 2017-18 season, and Seattle now primed for an inauguration in two to three years, the NHL will match the NFL with the most teams in any of the four major sports leagues in North America.

It will also cause another slight division realignment. The Arizona Coyotes will move from the Pacific to the Central Division, and Seattle will be in the Pacific.

Same expansion rules as Vegas

In March, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that any potential Seattle expansion franchise would be subject to the exact same expansion draft rules as the Golden Knights, and will take place in June 2021.

Teams will have two options when protecting players who may be added to the new Seattle team — either seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie, or eight total skaters and one goalie.

Players with no-movement clauses will be protected automatically, while any first- or second-year pros and all unsigned draft choices will not be eligible to be drafted by Seattle.

In October, Bettman confirmed Vegas will be exempt for the draft, meaning Seattle will have to choose one player from the NHL’s other 30 teams.

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