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What change in Seattle arena funding means for NHL chances

A group trying to bring a new arena to downtown Seattle announced on Monday that they are willing to fund the entire project themselves, ridding themselves of a funding agreement with the city.

The announcement is giving new life to the potential for an NHL franchise coming to Seattle.

When the NHL officially opened their expansion process back in 2015, many thought a group from Seattle, Washington would submit a bid for a team. There had been rumblings of potential expansion to Seattle if they could build a new arena.

That never came to fruition, and the bid window came and went without a proposal from a Seattle group.

The main problem with Seattle was the lack of an arena. Potential projects in suburbs Tukwila and Bellevue started gaining traction, but were in the very infant stages of development. The most viable option was a potential arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood known as “Sonics Arena,” being developed by a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen.

Hansen had a memorandum of understanding with the city of Seattle to use private and public funding to build the arena if Hansen brought an NBA franchise to the city. There was a stipulation in the MOU that an NBA team had to come before any NHL franchise, which seriously hampered efforts to bring the NHL to Seattle.

However, now that Hansen’s group is willing to completely finance the project and the land themselves, that MOU would mean nothing if their new plan comes to fruition. That means the door is wide open for an NHL team to come before an NBA team.

Of course, there are still a number of hurdles to clear, most notably the emergence of an ownership group and the NHL’s willingness to re-open the expansion process, but the red tape of the MOU was perhaps the biggest legal hurdle to getting an NHL team to Seattle.

Hansen’s main goal has been to bring the NBA back to Seattle after the SuperSonics franchise left for Oklahoma City in 2008. But, his group seems more than happy to bring an NHL team in first if it means an arena will go up.

Wally Walker, a member of Hansen’s arena team, thought it was likely that an NHL team comes in first.

“This is just a guess, but I would guess that NHL comes first just based on what we are hearing, but that’s nothing official,” Walker said on The Dave Softy Mahler show on Sportsradio 950 KJR. “It’s just level of interest and people kicking tires, prospective owners kicking tires and being out here and looking at the site, wanting to know what’s going on. They’ve got an expansion team coming to Vegas.”

“Everyone knows the story: it’s a natural fit and there is interest there. I know that for sure. What does that mean? When do we get a team if the arena gets done? We still don’t know that, but I tend to think it’ll happen quickly.”

Starting in 2017-18, the NHL will have an odd number of 31 teams competing in the league. While simply getting to an even number isn’t a worthwhile reason for expansion, all indications are that Seattle is a very viable NHL market, and that the league could be interested. It has a proximity to Vancouver, sports-craziness unlike most cities in the West and it’s in a market that hasn’t seen major professional hockey since the Seattle Metropolitans folded in 1924.

This new plan from Hansen to privately fund the project in no way guarantees NHL expansion to Seattle, but it makes the pathway to a Seattle team a lot clearer. If an ownership group steps forward with serious interest, and the league is willing to re-open the expansion process, a 32nd NHL franchise is not out of the question.

Get ready, because the NHL to Seattle train just got a load of fuel.

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