Seattle fans got an early Christmas present from the NHL on Tuesday when the league, as expected, awarded the city an expansion hockey team. They will be the 32nd organization and were unanimously approved by the NHL’s board of governors at the league’s meeting in Sea Island, Georgia.

Seattle hockey fans
Seattle hockey fans celebrate after the announcement was made Tuesday that their city was getting an NHL franchise. (Image: Seattle Times)

The company called Oak View, which is running the team, is headed by billionaire investment banker David Bonderman, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and sports executive Tim Leiweke. They paid $650 million for the expansion fee, $150 million more than the Vegas Golden Knights paid three years ago. They will begin play in the 2021-2022 season.

It was a year later than the ownership group wanted, but the league wanted to make sure that renovations that are being done to the team’s home at Key Arena will be completed. NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke, Tim Leiweke’s brother, told the Seattle Times it was a small concession.

“We went back and forth on it for weeks,” Leiweke said of negotiations between his group and the league. “In the end, they figured ‘Why risk it?’ Do you really want your team to start on the road? Have your team play all of its home games at the arena they’re going to call home.”

Details, Details, Details

With the team set for the Pacific Northwest, ownership now can focus on a name. Bovada has listed odds for franchise will be called. The overwhelming favorite is Totems at -105, which has its name rooted in Native American culture. The next closest contender is Emeralds at +400. Rainiers, Krakens and Sockeyes are next at +700.

Team owners and officials have been mum on the name, but Washington’s governor Jay Inslee might have let the name slip in a statement he made in March.

“We cannot wait to get on a high-speed rail line to come up and have the greatest hockey rivalry in North America, which is the Seattle Totems versus the Vancouver Canucks,” Inslee said.

The team will play in the same division as the now second newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Both will be in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. The Arizona Coyotes will be moved from there to the Western Conference’s Central Division.

The Coyotes, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, had been rumored to be a candidate for relocation, either to Las Vegas or Seattle. Owner Andrew Barroway, though, was able to keep the team in the Phoenix area. He did decline comment to reporters when asked about the move to the new division.

When the Seattle team drafts its squad, they will benefit from the same rules that were applied to the Golden Knights. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the other owners did not express any concerns about the rules, despite Vegas reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year.

Hockey Crazy in Seattle

There was no doubt the Emerald City was eager for a professional sports franchise to join the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and MLB’s Seattle Mariners. The city lost their NBA team, the Supersonics, when they moved to Oklahoma to become the Thunder.

The NHL team will play in the basketball team’s former home, Key Arena. Oak View has gotten a $750 million renovation plan approved by the city council.

Fans of hockey showed their enthusiasm well before it appeared a guarantee they would get a team. In March, the Seattle ownership group launched a season-ticket drive and said it reached 25,000 deposits within the first hour. That exceeds the goal of 10,000 deposits — which was reached in the first 12 minutes. The Golden Knights held a similar drive and got 10,000 deposits in two days, which was then called a success.