Seattle perfect fit for NHL

Seattle is a truly beautiful place. It’s one of the rare places in the country that gives you the excitement and bustle of a big city, but also can satisfy the nature lover in you with both mountains and the ocean nearby.

However, when you think of Seattle, hockey is probably not the first sport that comes to mind. That’s about to change as the NHL will soon come to town after the league granted the city a franchise last week to start in the 2021-22 season.

This decision comes one year after the Vegas Golden Knights had their inaugural season and were wildly successful, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Will things go that well for Seattle in its first season? That doesn’t seem likely, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

What did seem like the impossible was the idea of having a team in Seattle. The NHL has been resistant to expansion for awhile now after adding four new teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Not surprisingly, one was popular right from the start in Minnesota, while one didn’t become a hit until the last couple of years at Nashville. Columbus has a loyal following, but still has yet to catch on in a city that is obsessed with college football.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman probably doesn’t want to acknowledge that the league tried to have a franchise in Atlanta for a second time. Those teams have now found success elsewhere, with the Flames winning a Cup in Calgary, and the formerly Thrashers, now Jets, being the best team in Canada right now in Winnipeg.

At least the Thrashers have a popular Twitter handle, so that’s something.

It’s not just the mixed success that they’ve had with their most recent teams, the league’s idea of expanding the sport into nontraditional markets has also been hit or miss.

Anaheim and San Jose have been not only popular in their cities, but have prospered in the postseason with the Ducks hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2007. So has Tampa Bay, who won the Cup in 2004 and came close again in 2015.

However, other teams in the Sun Belt have failed to garner attention. Arizona has yet to make the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Coyotes are dying out in the desert. Florida’s franchise has never truly caught on and the Panthers seem to be permanently on the endangered list.

Carolina may have skated with the Cup in 2006, but the Hurricanes seem to lose strength in the middle of the season and veer back into the ocean.

Remember when Carolina got shut out at Hockeyville two years ago? It wasn’t due to stellar goaltending. The ‘Canes just aren’t very good and haven’t made the playoffs in nine years. They’re even trying to market the jerseys of their former team name (Hartford Whalers) to fans. How sad is that?

The latter three teams are located where it was hoped that attendance would be strong due to migrated snowbirds who want to watch mediocre hockey. It’s a bold strategy, but it hasn’t worked out.

And those three teams have been floated as relocation possibilities for years, dangling a golden carrot in front of the desperate mouths of small Canadian cities.

Quebec City even built a brand-new arena on the hope that someday the NHL will throw them a bone and give them an expansion team. With Vegas and Seattle now in place, that looks like a pipe dream, like when San Antonio built the Alamodome to get an NFL team.

So far, the best San Antonio has gotten out of that attempt is the NBA’s Spurs for a few years, and now, the Texas-San Antonio football team (Go Roadrunners!). Note to other cities, get the team first, then build the facility. Get the spouse before the house.

Quebec City and San Antonio failed to get leagues to pay serious attention to them, and Seattle wasn’t any different. After all, it lost a NBA franchise when the Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City (of all places) and became the Thunder, the team where great players want to get away from.

You can kind of understand the NHL’s logic there. Why put a team in a city that already lost one? Not every place can be like Minnesota, which went insane when the league even considered bring the state an expansion NHL franchise.

Eventually Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors couldn’t resist Seattle. And how could they? They just hit a gold mine in Vegas, where the Knights turned into a tourist attraction almost as big as Celine Dion. Well maybe not that big, but probably better than Wayne Newton.

Seattle may not be the travel hotspot that Vegas is, but it’s still a popular place, it’s already got famous companies to help market it (Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, etc.) and it’s got a natural rival less than 150 miles away in Vancouver.

If that wasn’t enough, Seattle might be one of the few places that could top Vegas when it comes to pregame entertainment as famed Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer (and native Detroiter) is part owner. The producer of action blockbusters “Top Gun,” “The Rock” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga definitely knows how to market a product to the public, so the Seattle team won’t have any problems getting people to show up, at least not for the first couple of years.

Not only does the NHL get Bruckheimer’s talents for creating a massively successful show, but it gives the league a new market to tap into. The NHL already had the Eastern states, then it added the Midwest along with California before heading south. With the Pacific Northwest about to be firmly in place, the league has hit all the major markets in North American.

All that’s left are maybe a team in Alaska, Hawaii or Mexico, but those might be a stretch. Keep hope alive though, Upper Peninsula! Miracles can happen.

However, Seattle didn’t need a miracle to get an NHL franchise. It just needed some things to fall into place to land one. It’s got the fans, both young and old, a strong hockey history, and based on what Vegas did last year, a chance for early achievement.

All things considered, Seattle is a beautiful fit. Not just for the league, but for the sport of hockey as well.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.