Why an NHL Team in Seattle Makes Sense with New Realignment Plan Official

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Why an NHL Team in Seattle Makes Sense with New Realignment Plan Official
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL announced on Thursday that the new realignment plan for the 2013-14 season had been passed by the league's Board of Governors.

The following pictures show how the league will be formatted next season under the new four-division, two-conference setup.

Photo Credit: NHL.com
Photo Credit: NHL.com

Whenever realignment is discussed or actual changes are made to the landscape of the league, the issue of relocation also becomes a hot topic of conversation.

As you can see in the above picture of the Western Conference, there are only seven teams in each division. This leaves the door open for possible expansion or relocation.

One city that is often brought up as a good destination for the NHL is Seattle. But how would the city get a team? The options are through relocation of an existing franchise or by expansion.

If the Phoenix Coyotes, who still haven't found an owner since the league took over the club in 2009, need to be relocated at some point in the near future, Seattle is a logical destination for the franchise because the team would be able to stay in its current division and develop geographical rivalries with the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

Very few people would be surprised if the Coyotes were relocated in the near future. Reasons include their lackluster attendance numbers (ranked 30th in attendance percentage, per ESPN) and poor financial health (via Forbes), but there is no report of an imminent move at this time.

On Thursday, Seattle native and investor Chris Hansen, who wants to help the NBA return to the city, posted two pictures of what a new Sonics Arena could look like for a hockey game:

Photo Credit: SonicsArena.com
Photo Credit: SonicsArena.com

In addition to the pictures, Hansen also shared some comments about the building on SonicsArena.com:

The bottom line is as good as this is for basketball, it is an even better building for hockey...While I know there may have been a few skeptics out there, I have to say I am just as pumped as most of you to see the return of professional hockey to Seattle, and honestly can't wait to see this building bursting at the seams with crazed Seattle hockey fans.

After looking at these photos of the arena's setup for hockey, it's clear that this would be a fantastic venue for hockey. And Hansen even goes as far to say: "It is an even better building for hockey" when comparing it to basketball. The sight-lines look great, and there doesn't appear to be a bad seat in the house.

The New York Islanders are going to move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season, which is the Brooklyn Nets' new arena that opened for the beginning of the 2012-13 NBA season.

Judging by the above pictures of the Sonics Arena, it's safe to say that watching an NHL game in Seattle will be a lot more enjoyable than at the Barclays Center, which does not have an ideal setup for hockey.

On a conference call to explain the new realignment plan to the media on Thursday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman talked about the possibility of a team in Seattle (via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post)

The league's television footprint has expanded quite a bit since it began putting franchises in southern and western United States markets. Having teams in nearly every part of the country certainly played a role in the NHL agreeing to a record 10-year, $2 billion TV rights agreement with NBC Sports in 2011.

The NHL has a franchise in 12 of the 15 largest U.S. television markets, but Seattle (12th) is one of those markets that is without a team (the other two are Houston and Atlanta).

From a geographical standpoint, the league has just one franchise in the Northwest United States, which is the San Jose Sharks. There are no NHL teams in the state of Oregon or Washington. The NBA, NFL, MLS and MLB have 12 teams in the those two states and the San Francisco/Oakland area combined.

This is an area of the United States that the NHL could see a lot of growth in (youth hockey registration, fan interest in NHL, etc.) if the league put a franchise in Seattle.

If Seattle was able to build a new arena and lure an NBA to the city, it wouldn't be surprising to see several people express interest in helping the NHL come to Seattle for the first time. Chris Daniel of King 5 in Seattle reported the following in February of 2012, when the Sonics Arena was being proposed.

The biggest question that has to be answered before any NHL team goes to Seattle is if the city would support a professional hockey team. The chances are that it would, especially since Seattle is a city full of passionate sports fans who have been loyal to their professional teams.

According to SonicsArena.com, the proposed stadium would have a capacity of 17,500 for hockey, which is over 2,000 more seats than the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, which is the smallest building in the NHL.

Here's a look at how Seattle sports fans supported their teams in 2012 in regard to attendance (All figures via ESPN).

Team Sport Finish Avg. Attendance Att. % (League Rank)
Seattle Seahawks NFL Lost in Div. Round 67,946 (4th)
Seattle Mariners MLB 5th in AL West 21,258 (30th)
Seattle Sounders MLS Lost in West Finals 42,751 1st

The Mariners' attendance numbers do not look impressive, but to be fair, the team has given its fans very few reasons to buy tickets and come to Safeco Field over the last few years. Starting with the 2008 season, the Mariners have finished higher than fourth in the AL West Division standings only one time.

However, the fact that the Sounders can dominate the MLS in attendance is very impressive, especially since the franchise has only been in existence since 2007.

The NFL has also been immensely popular in Seattle. And since 2005, the Seahawks have been ranked outside the top 10 in attendance percentage just one time—in 2011 when they finished 11th.

In addition to several professional teams, the Seattle/Portland region is also home to three teams in the WHL, which is a major junior hockey league. Those teams are the Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds. They all have a loyal and passionate fanbase.

Here are these three teams' average attendance figures for the 2011-12 season (via HockeyDB):

Team Avg. Attendance WHL Rank (of 22)
Winterhawks 6,075 6th
Silvertips 5,278 8th
Thunderbirds 4,206 12th

There are plenty of hockey fans in the Northwest, and I'm sure a lot of these people would rather watch NHL games in Seattle instead of having to make lengthy and expensive trips to San Jose and Vancouver.

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It's time for the NHL to tap into the Northwest United States markets and help grow the game in this part of the country.

The other major North American sports leagues have all found success in the Northwest. There's no reason the NHL should fail to achieve similar results with a modern arena that's perfect for hockey, a large amount of hockey fans in the region and the opportunity to improve television ratings in Washington, Oregon and other states.

If the NHL ever needs to relocate the Coyotes or wants to expand to a western market: Seattle should be the first city that is considered if there's a new arena available.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.

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