NEW YORK — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the league’s executive committee voted 9-0 to forward Seattle’s expansion bid to a full board of governors vote in December, clearing the way for a 32nd franchise by October 2020.
Bettman said the 2020 date isn’t yet solidified and will depend on the ability of a $700 million KeyArena renovation to proceed on schedule. If not, the commissioner left open the possibility of delaying the franchise launch until 2021 but said the immediate goal remains 2020.
“The recommendation is to proceed with expansion in Seattle, subject to completing the process thoroughly,” Bettman said after emerging from an afternoon board of governors meeting in Manhattan.
The 31-member board needs a three quarters majority vote in favor of expansion for it to take place. But several governors emerging from Tuesday’s meeting said there was nothing but positive vibes about the application.
“The way leagues are nowadays, even getting something to a vote is impossible unless everybody wants to do it,” one governor said, requesting anonymity. “The last thing you need is any dissension in the group.”
Bettman said talk of postponing the expansion by a year because of fears of a pending lockout come September 2019 is overblown.
“The focus for everybody is 2020,” Bettman said. “That’s what we’re focused on. There are a variety of factors that could impact that, including the construction timeline. The sooner construction can begin, obviously, the more likely an early start.”
A Seattle delegation lobbying for the team emerged from the executive committee meeting earlier Tuesday confident of securing a team and starting by that 2020 date.
“I’m very confident we’re going to be able to move forward and get what we need from the NHL and the (awarding of) the team and go forward and stick to the schedule so that we can get hockey in 2020,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told reporters after the 90-minute presentation to the committee.
A contract between the City of Seattle and the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group requires that a team be awarded before a $700 million KeyArena remodel can begin. OVG has said it can finish construction by the October 2020 opening of that year’s NHL season if demolition work begins by December.
But OVG would like to start work as soon as possible given the tight schedule. The league’s full board of governors won’t vote on awarding Seattle an expansion franchise until December, but Durkan indicated work could possibly start earlier if the league sends the right signals.
“We’ve got to look at what they do,” she said. “You know, the contract requires very specific things on what we have to do to go forward. And so we want a very clear sign that that happens. Because the public has got to know that the risk is on the ownership team.”
The league had recently floated the idea of delaying the team’s launch until October 2021 to make the construction schedule easier to manage. But Durkan wasn’t playing up that idea.
“They know we want it in 2020 and they’d like to have it in 2020 too — if we get the team,” Durkan said.
Bettman said later that it’s up to the city to decide whether it speeds up the construction process by starting the demolition phase ahead of the vote. The executive committee will prepare a full report on progress for the board of governors ahead of the December vote, but the hard start date for the team won’t be firmly set until the league gets a better grasp on how construction is going.
“If everything can be accomplished then 2020 will be the goal,” Bettman said. “If not, then we’ll go with 2021. But I think everybody’s preference would be sooner rather than later.”
The Seattle delegation — which included Durkan, future team owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, OVG head Tim Leiweke, NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke and minority investors Len Potter and David Wright — was to learn later in the day Tuesday whether the committee would give a positive recommendation to the full board of governors. That board has never failed to approve an executive committee expansion recommendation.
“I’m very confident that we made a compelling presentation,” Bonderman said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Bonderman said there was little discussion about a potential lockout in September 2019 delaying the awarding of a franchise.
Tod Leiweke said the team’s 33,000 season ticket deposits in a little more than 24 hours last March seemed to impress the executive committee the most. Leiweke said the possibility of a 2020 start date wasn’t the main focus of the presentation.
“We didn’t really get into too much detail there,” he said. “We were talking about, not one year, but the long term viability. And that’s what they’re thinking about. Not a year. Not a day. They’re thinking about long term.”
Instead, he added, they focused on how the KeyArena renovation will transform the 56-year-old venue into “what we think will be one of the most compelling arenas in the world.” As well, they discussed the makeup of majority and local owners as the “dream owner” in multi-billionaire managing partner Bonderman and what he can do for the league.
NHL commissioner Bettman and deputy Bill Daly also attended the meeting. Upon completion, both men and the 10 committee members moved to a hotel several blocks away for the full board of governors meeting of the 31 team owners.
“We have a great story to tell,” Leiweke said. “I think we put our best foot forward, and we’ll let the cards fall where they will.”