NHL Relocation: Seattle?
The buzzards of Quebec, Hamilton, and Toronto circle overhead as the Coyotes cling to life in the Phoenix desert.
As their position in the NHL becomes more precarious each day, the topic of relocation continues to heat up.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said that he wants to keep the Coyotes in their suburban Glendale home. That might prove to be too difficult considering the most recent attempt to buy the club, and most promising, has come up some $20 milllion short.
In the near future Bettman will have to seriously consider owners who will relocate the club possibly to the aforementioned Canadian cities.
Just recently, an American city has emerged as a viable destination: Seattle.
According to a report by Master Tesfatsion of The Seattle Times, the AHL's Chicago Wolves owner Don levin has pledged $100 million to build an NHL arena in Seattle in hopes of landing a club.
Seattle has a unique place in hockey history. In 1917 the Seattle Metropolitans, who played in the old Pacific Coast Hockey Association, became the first American club to win the Stanley Cup. Two years later they were playing for the cup again, this time against the Montreal Canadiens, when tragedy struck.
With the series tied at 2-2-1 (Due to the inability to resurface the ice they did in fact record ties back then), the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 hit the Canadiens. Nearly the entire team as well as the coaching staff was afflicted with the disease.
The two clubs decided to cancel the final after the Habs' Joe Hall died from pneumonia brought on by the flu.
It remains the only Stanley Cup ever cancelled due to illness.
Despite their success, the team would play for the Cup again in 1920, the Metropolitans folded in 1924 and Seattle has been without professional hockey ever since.
The Emerald City will have to beat out some tough competition if it wants hockey to return.
Fans in Eastern Ontario and Quebec City will point to the success of Winnipeg's return to the NHL as a welcome precedent.
The hockey mad areas of Canada would guarantee nightly sellouts. Financially, a stronger Canadian dollar allows them to compete in a more fiscally responsible NHL- something that wasn't possible when franchises first started the Canadian exodus in the mid-nineties.
Still, Seattle would be the wiser choice should the Coyotes or another club relocate. The metropolitan area of 3.5 million is the US's fifteenth largest, and second largest (behind Houston) that has never been home to NHL hockey.
The move would also spread out a league that has become increasingly Northeast-centric. Four of the five Winter Classics have been hosted by Eastern teams.
NBC showcases the big markets of the East in its nationally televised games more often than not. When the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Caps, and Bruins aren't available, they turn to the reliable Blackhawks and Red Wings. While both teams play in the Western Conference, the cities are in the Eastern half of the United States.
This is not merely a bias. Hockey has long been established as a Northeast sport while it continues to grow in the Western United States. Moreover, the larger television markets of the East Coast bring higher ratings for a league that has always been ratings-conscious.
Outside of logistics, the intense rivalries of the East have produced a new level of excitement amongst NHL fans. Games like Habs-Bruins, Flyers-Penguins, and Penguins-Caps have become must watch affairs for even the average fan.
Out West, no such rivalries exist. Ten years ago the Avalanche-Red Wings served as the league's marquis matchup. Annual playoff battles built a hatred between the clubs that was palpable to the tv viewer.
After the key characters in the rivalry retired and the Avalanche slowly drifted towards mediocrity, the West was left with...what?
The Battle of Alberta? Canadians may pay close attention to a mid-January Flames-Oilers tilt but a matchup between two non-playoff Alberta clubs does not conjure up the same excitement stateside.
Which is where Seattle comes in.
The Western Conference's best team over the past two seasons has been the Vancouver Canucks, who count the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks as their top two rivals. Playoff bitterness goes a long way, but ultimately the Canucks play the two teams a combined six times over the regular season.
Just 141 miles to the South of Vancouver, however, lurks Seattle, a neighbor with whom Canucks fans could build disdain.
This isn't to say Seattle is merely a tool for Vancouver's hate though.
As a hockey town Seattle may be unheralded but as a diverse sports town it is nearly unmatched. The NFL's Seahawks play to the league's best home field advantage at Quest Field. When the soccer playing Sounders entered the MLS in 2009, their raucous atmosphere and immediate success ushered in a new era of prosperity for the entire league.
Much of their success came on the back of local derbies, one with the Portland Timbers and an international battle with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
A Seattle hockey club could take over the winter months between football and soccer seasons. The denizens of the Emerald City might be quick to swear allegiance to an NHL club with the bitter taste of the Sonic's departure still fresh on their tongues.
An intense rivalry with their Canadian neighbors would only expediate Seattle's progress in the NHL, where fans not only look for a team to love but also teams to hate.
The rivalry could open up the entire Northwest to professional hockey, filling a vacancy that has existed for far too long.
Bettman routinely talks about expanding the game. Putting hockey in Eastern Canada is not expansion. It's appeasement.
If the Commissioner stays true to his word he would pick Seattle over Canadian cities should relocation come to fruition.