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NHL executive committee recommends Seattle expansion team

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was in New York in October 2018 for an NHL committee meeting. (Mayor Jenny Durkan, Twitter)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the executive committee has recommended an expansion team in Seattle.

NHL insider Pierre LeBrun of TSN reports it appears likely the full board of governors will take up the Seattle team at meetings scheduled for Dec. 3-4. He said Bettman says a team in Seattle in the fall of 2020 is dependent on some factors, but would be ideal.

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Describing Seattle as a fastest-growing most innovative city in the country, a local contingent including Mayor Jenny Durkan and prospective teams owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer gave a two-hour presentation to the National Hockey League’s executive committee meeting in New York Tuesday in an ongoing bid to land a new professional hockey franchise.

PHOTOS: KeyArena remodel illustrations

And while no final decision was forthcoming from the group of owners and league Commissioner Gary Bettman, the Seattle team left the meeting even more optimistic than they arrived.

“I think they understand that if the league wants to continue growing and expanding, Seattle’s the place to be,” Durkan said in an interview following the meeting. “We’re the fastest-growing city in the country. The companies we grow are second-to-none and the fan base is second-to-none.”

Durkan told the executive committee that the proposed Seattle Center Arena is a world class arena ready to host. “It’s been the epicenter of Seattle for decades,” she said. Prospective team CEO and President Tod Leiweke also touted the arena which they hope to have ready for the NHL season in two years.

However, it is that optimistic arena construction schedule that was a focus of executive committee questions. Durkan said she thinks the Seattle group calmed skepticism about the completion date.

“Their first questions were around timing and schedule and whether it was realistic that we will be ready to go by 2020,” she said. “When they heard the presentation and the commitments in the room, they understood how we can get it done.”

“There’s never been a project of this size, for example, where you’ve had a community so bought in to the project on the front end. We saved months just by doing that up-front work.”

The NHL’s final decision on a Seattle franchise could happen at any time. But the league management has indicated it plans a decision in early December.

The NHL’s decision, when it happens, will cap a two-year effort by the Oak View Group — run by Tod’s brother Tim — to both rebuild the former KeyArena and bring a professional hockey club as its primary tenant.

After establishing an ownership group initially bankrolled by financier David Bonderman and movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the Seattle Hockey Partners set about convincing the NHL they should get the open franchise.  In March, the group collected more than 25,000 season-ticket deposits in one hour, gathered $500 to $1,000 increments.

Then, in April, they hired Tod Leiweke, who has deep NHL roots as former ownership partner with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But it was the local stampede to put down deposits — a number that exceeded both the anticipated interest along with the 19,000 seats in the proposed rebuild of Seattle Center Arena —  that is rumored to have caught NHL executives pleasantly off-guard.

One week ago, the group cleared another a hurdle. Mayor Durkan signed the $700 million deal with the Oak View Group to spend the next two years building the arena that currently holds WNBA champions the Seattle Storm. The privately-financed deal seeks to have the arena open and hockey-ready by fall of 2021.

Now it waits for the NHL to make its decision. The Seattle Partners have said they want to have a team playing in the rebuilt arena by the start of the 2020 season.

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