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Commission renewing interest in NHL to Seattle

By Brent Stecker

With no new developments on a possible return of the NBA to Seattle, the city is now taking a long, hard look at another option to bridge the gap of time between the seasons of the Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners.

Hoping to ride a wave of momentum after the Winter Olympics hockey tournament, the Seattle Sports Commission will head to Vancouver this week to watch a Canucks game and meet with the city's sports and tourism officials to get more knowledge about the NHL product.

Ralph Morton, the executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission, talked with 710 ESPN Seattle's "Bob and Groz" about the motivation behind the trip, and he explained that it appears to be an opportune time for the city to pursue an NHL franchise.

"I see this town and a thriving community," Morton said. "I think the time is right. I think this community can afford it and everything I hear has been pretty darn positive (about bringing the NHL to Seattle)."

As was the case in last year's failed bid to bring the NBA back to Seattle, a new arena would be necessary for Seattle to gain an NHL franchise. The NHL has already proved to be more realistically viable for Seattle than the NBA, though, by showing an interest in expansion.

"I think it says something the fact that (the NHL) would consider a temporary situation. I think that's a strong statement about how eager they might be to be here in Seattle," Morton said.

Morton believes Seattle fans would take to an NHL franchise much like it has to the Sounders, who regularly set MLS attendance records at CenturyLink Field.

"The sport, to some people it's foreign, but there's a ton of hockey fans in the region. I think it would be a big success similar to MLS coming to town," Morton said. "I also like the idea … similar to what's happened with the soccer, where you create the little I-5 rivalry between Portland and Vancouver for soccer, here's an opportunity with hockey. Imagine those Vancouver games, playing against them. It just kinda has a built-in audience and builds that instant rivalry."

A number of new politicians, including mayor Ed Murray, have recently taken office in Seattle, though Morton doesn't see that as a road block to a potential deal with the NHL.

"I think our new mayor is supportive of the idea. You saw him in the big parade as one of the 12th Men there riding along with some of the (Seahawks). I think they realize the economic impact that sports has on the region. I'm positive from a political perspective that they see the value that this would bring."

The prevailing idea is that Seattle sports fans are more set on seeing a return of the Sonics in Seattle, but Morton believes those same fans could be just as interested in an NHL franchise.

"The Sonics truly were part of our culture, and I think they kinda still are even though they're not here at the moment," he said. "It's interesting, when you hear people and you talk to a group, you might walk in assuming that it's 'Let's get the Sonics back.' But you keep getting a lot of these people who will say, 'We want hockey as much as we want the Sonics.'

"You do have this core base of people because of who we are as a city, where people have moved here from the Midwest, people have moved here from Canada, a little more of an international, diverse city, that we have a ton of hockey fans here. So there's a passionate base that maybe is hockey-first. In my opinion, it would work pretty well here."

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