There has been talk of the NHL placing a franchise in the city of Seattle. But would the Pacific Northwest be a good home for a hockey franchise, or would this end up being another failed NHL experiment?
For purposes of this analysis, we won’t get into the logistics of what it will take to bring a team to Seattle or to have an arena constructed, just whether or not the idea in and of itself has any merit.
The NHL has had some success expanding into non-traditional markets, while in some cases expansion or movement of a team to such cities has been an unmitigated disaster.
In total over the history of the NHL, 19 different teams have been forced to either fold or relocate to another city.
Even in areas where it would seem that hockey would be given a hero’s welcome and sell out season tickets without even having to try, teams have seen mediocre returns, and were forced to fold or relocate. So before we talk about whether or not Seattle would make a cozy home for an NHL team, let’s take a look at some of the failed franchises during the modern era of the NHL.
NHL Expansion Franchises Forced to Fold or Relocate since 1970
|Kansas City Scouts||1974||1976||Colorado (Rockies)|
|Colorado Rockies||1976||1982||New Jersey (Devils)|
|Cleveland Barons||1976||1978||Minnesota (merger with North Stars)|
|Quebec Nordiques||1979||1995||Colorado (Avalanche)|
|Winnipeg Jets||1979||1996||Arizona (Coyotes)|
|Hartford Whalers||1979||1997||North Carolina (Hurricanes)|
|Atlanta Thrashers||1999||2011||Winnipeg (Jets)|
Now of those franchises that did not remain solvent, the group brought in during the 1979 season – the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques – were all absorbed by the NHL when the World Hockey Association (a failed rival league) ceased operations. The Oilers were the only of those teams able to survive in their existing cities.
Some areas (Winnipeg, Atlanta, Colorado) have even had multiple chances to foster a successful expansion franchise or relocated team.
The common denominator for every one of those teams, however, was the reason for relocating or folding. Financial struggles.
That brings us to Seattle. Certainly a climate suitable enough for hockey (hey, if it can survive in Southern California and South Florida), and fans that are seemingly very supportive of their teams, regardless of the results. And most recently, the city that is home to the most recent Super Bowl champions in the NFL – the Seattle Seahawks.
Bu has Seattle ever had a major professional sports franchise fail or leave town? A few, to be honest.
Seattle lost a MLB baseball franchise – the Seattle Pilots – who left in 1970 to become the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the city has been home to the Mariners, who have been playing in Seattle since 1977 but have yet to bring home a title. The Pilots were forced to relocate due to huge financial burdens and a stadium the simply didn’t meet the standards that MLB wanted.
Then there was the Seattle SuperSonics, the city’s NBA team from 1967-2008, who left for Oklahoma City to become the wildly popular Thunder. The Sonics, who won an NBA championship in 1979, were still drawing big numbers in terms of fan support, but ownership and the city couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds in regards to money, so owner Clay Bennett took his ball and went home elsewhere.
How about hockey in Seattle? Why yes, as a matter of fact, the city of Seattle has actually seen a team hoist the coveted Stanley Cup.
In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans of the then-Pacific Coast Hockey Association, defeated the mighty Montreal Canadiens to bring Seattle their first professional championship in the form of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
All total, the city of Seattle has eight professional championships; one Stanley Cup, one NBA Championship, one Super Bowl, two WNBA championships, and three U.S. Open Cup (soccer) Championships.
All of this seems to point to Seattle being a wonderful home to a new NHL franchise, right?
Not so fast, my friends.
OK, short answer…yes, Seattle would be a perfect place for an NHL team, but not necessarily a new team.
While the NHL hit a reported record revenue of $3.7 billion last season, things are still shaky for a number of teams. The Arizona (formerly Phoenix) Coyotes were actually going to be the first choice of a team to move to the Seattle area, but a new owner was found and a deal struck before the July 2, 2013 deadline, keeping the team in the desert for the time being.
Are there other teams who could possibly pull up stakes and head to the Pacific Northwest? Absolutely.
The New York Islanders, whose owner Charles Wang fought unsuccessfully to revamp the Nassau Coliseum, announced he was moving the team to Brooklyn’s new Barclay’s Center for the 2015-16 season. The Isles are last in the NHL in revenue, with only $61 million, and a staggering 51% debt ratio to value of the team. The Islanders lost $1.2 million in 2014, and could be possibly talked into a different city rather than just a different borough of New York.
The Florida Panthers, who haven’t seen black on the ledger for quite some time, only had $67 million in revenue last season, and with another massive amount of debt (50% of team value), ended up losing $7.7 million in 2014. If the Panthers aren’t a target for relocation soon, they’ll definitely be suspect for contraction.
Some of the smaller market Canadian teams that you might think were having financial issues – Calgary, Edmonton, etc – actually did quite well, increasing both in value of the team and revenue vs. operating budget numbers. So Canada, you’re safe this time, eh?
Moving a financially (as well as performance on the ice) struggling team such as the Panthers or Islanders would certainly make the most sense, rather than adding another expansion team to a league that has finally begun to stabilize after not adding any teams since the 2000-2001 season.
Would a Seattle NHL franchise be a good idea? Absolutely. But not at the expense of damaging the league or causing further struggles for existing teams who are barely afloat.