Emerald City Ice, Could the NHL Return to Seattle?

Vince ComunaleContributor IFebruary 28, 2012

The NHL had a home in Seattle from 1915 to 1924
The NHL had a home in Seattle from 1915 to 1924Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Could NHL hockey be returning to the Emerald City?  Yes, I said returning.  The city of Seattle did have a brief cup of coffee in the NHL. 

The Seattle Metropolitans played in the NHL from 1915 to 1924. In that time the Metropolitans compiled an impressive 112-96-2 record and made three appearances in the Stanley Cup Final.  They captured the Stanley Cup in 1917, becoming the first American team to win the fabled trophy.

Now, nearly 100 years after that Stanley Cup championship, there’s an outside chance that the NHL could return to Seattle.  Recently news broke that the city of Seattle has a proposal on the table to construct an NHL/NBA-ready arena in the hopes of luring an anchor tenant(s) from another city. 

The approximately $500 million, state-of-the-art arena would be built in the city’s SoDo neighborhood near the homes of the Mariners and Seahawks.  Private investors, lead by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, would put $290 million into the project, while the $200+ million would come from city and county financing that would be repaid over the next 30 years through revenues generated and rental income from NBA/NHL tenants using the arena.

Having a plan in place clears the first major to getting an arena built, however, there is still another major hurdle.  The financing for the plan is based on having both an NHL and NBA team occupying the building. 

Considering that there is neither an NBA nor an NHL franchise in the Emerald City makes an actual groundbreaking for a new arena seem like a long shot.  Further, in 2006, voters passed an initiative that prohibits the city of Seattle from supporting professional sports teams with taxes unless those investments yield a profit. 

For the NHL, the market size (13th-largest U.S. media market) and the natural rival that a Seattle-based team could have with Vancouver make the possibility intriguing, but market size does not always equate to vibrant NHL franchises.  Consider that the Atlanta media market is the ninth-largest in the United States, yet the Atlanta Thrashers migrated North to Winnipeg after the 2010-11 season.

Once the NFL season ends, the city of Seattle is devoid of any professional sports to keep the city’s interest since the Seattle Super Sonics bolted to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 NBA season. 

Therefore, the city would desperately like to lure a professional team, NBA or NHL, back to the city.  However, with the prospect of a new arena hinging on Seattle securing both an NHL and NBA franchise, the odds seem about as unlikely as going a whole day in Seattle without hearing Pearl Jam.