By Andrew Eide
The rumors and speculation about the potential relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes to Seattle continue to heat up. It now appears that if the club and the city of Glendale, Ariz. can not come to an agreement on a new arena deal next week the team could end up in KeyArena for the upcoming season.
While this is far from a done deal, as the NHL has made it clear its preference is to remain in Arizona, it appears that the league has Seattle in its sights – whether it's the Coyotes or future expansion.
The natural question for many hockey fans in the Puget Sound area is how this would affect the two WHL teams in the region. Would the presence of the NHL hurt the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips?
Neither club feels that way, and in fact would welcome big-league hockey in the area. Having the NHL would only increase the sport's popularity in Puget Sound, which in turn would only help the two junior clubs.
"Any addition of hockey in the market is good," says Thunderbirds vice president Colin Campbell. "It will grow youth hockey even more. It will increase our fan base and be a benefit to everyone."
Reports say Seattle is a potential landing spot for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. (AP)
"I think we're excited about anything that continues to make hockey more popular in this area," Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson says of the possibility. "If Seattle were to get an NHL team it would help raise the profile of the game locally, and that's a positive thing for the Everett Silvertips as well. We believe that we put a quality product on the ice at a price that's affordable for local families, and anything that grows the game of hockey around here is good for us in the end."
Davidson makes two great points about the difference between the WHL clubs and the NHL. Both Seattle and Everett feature ticket prices that are much more affordable than the NHL would be. The average NHL ticket runs around $50 per seat and much higher for the premium center-ice tickets. Seattle's most expensive club seats are only $40, below the NHL average and well below comparable seats in the NHL arenas.
For families who fall in love with hockey, the WHL will be a great way to take the whole family out to the rink. The location of the ShoWare Center and Comcast Arena also work in the favor of the two clubs. Both are roughly 20-30 minutes outside of Seattle and attract fans from south and north of the city. These are hockey fans who like having a local option and will continue to attend the WHL games without fighting traffic and paying high parking costs.
The notion of having the WHL and the NHL in the same region is not unprecedented as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary also have both leagues operating in their cities. Edmonton's and Calgary's WHL clubs even share arenas with their NHL counterparts.
There is also precedent in the Puget Sound region for major- and minor-league sports to coexist. The Everett Aquasox and Tacoma Rainiers manage to continue to be successful despite the presence of the Seattle Mariners – for many of the same reasons that the T-Birds and Silvertips would with the Coyotes in town.
In the end, the WHL will continue to be an affordable option to watch high-end talent play an entertaining brand of hockey and with the region's hockey IQ raised by the NHL it will begin to draw even more interest than it does now.
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide.