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NHL All-Star Game promised to Seattle

Will host within seven years of inaugural 2021-22 season; Draft could come first

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

The NHL has promised Seattle an All-Star Game within seven years of the expansion team's inaugural season of 2021-22, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a press conference at the Space Needle on Wednesday.

Commissioner Bettman also said he guesses an NHL Draft will be held in the city before an All-Star Game, and the NHL will study the feasibility of holding an outdoor game.

"We're going to be bringing League events here," Commissioner Bettman said. "This is where we want to be."

 

[RELATED: Complete Hockey in Seattle coverage]

 

Commissioner Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly visited Seattle on Wednesday for the first time since the Board of Governors approved Seattle's expansion application in Sea Island, Georgia, on Dec. 4.

They met with the mayor, city council members, local owners, season-ticket depositors and others, and they toured Seattle Center Arena -- the former KeyArena, undergoing an $800 million redevelopment -- as well as a preview center under construction.

The new arena is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021, which would be in time for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

During the press conference, NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke hopped off stage, handed a microphone to a reporter and whispered to him to ask about the NHL Draft.

"We're looking at when it would be appropriate to bring the draft here," Commissioner Bettman said. "Obviously we need to have an expansion draft, so we're looking at the possibilities. Nothing has been decided. I'm not making any announcement."

There is much to do in the interim.

Leiweke said NHL Seattle would roll out an online portal for season-ticket depositors in about 60 days. One purpose will be to get their input on the team name, which Leiweke said he suspected would be announced sometime this year.

"We're going to have them weigh in all sorts of things," Leiweke said. "If I have my way, their fingerprints are going to be all over this franchise, certainly team name. But they're going to help us build this. So that's going to be a big deal."

Video: NHL unveils growth in 2018 with expansion to Seattle

The Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association were the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association in 1917. Asked if the name Metropolitans could be ruled out because the NHL has the Metropolitan Division, Commissioner Bettman said: "Viscerally, yes. But I never say never."

Leiweke said NHL Seattle would lay out a detailed timeline on the online portal, taking depositors through the building of the organization to the dropping of the first puck, and would give more information about the new arena.

"We haven't done the job we need to in telling the story of how great this building's going to be," he said. "We're going to do it with our depositors in this new portal we're creating. I still hear people calling it a renovation. It is anything but that."

NHL Seattle is also building a $75 million three-sheet training center in the northern part of the city. Leiweke reiterated that NHL Seattle is committed to growing the game. Among the ideas: a First Nations league.

"I believe that they will see such use of the ice that they're going to wind up focusing not too distant after it's opened on building more sheets of ice just to keep up with the demand," Commissioner Bettman said.

Commissioner Bettman was asked about the collective bargaining agreement. The CBA runs through 2022, but the NHL and the NHL Players' Association each has the right in September to trigger the reopening of the agreement in 2020.

"I'm not in favor of having a difficult negotiation," Commissioner Bettman said. "I'm hoping we can extend or renew with minimum fanfare, and I'm not a fan of work stoppages, although we do have to have a system that works and keeps the game [as] healthy and vibrant and entertaining as it is now so we'll see what happens. But I'm not looking for a fight."

NHL Seattle originally hoped to begin play in 2020-21. Starting in 2021-22 gives more time for the new arena to be finished and for NHL Seattle to build its organization.

"The period of time between now and dropping the puck on opening night in '21 is going to go a lot faster than people imagine," Commissioner Bettman said. "I think we have the right timeframe to do it right. … The emphasis is going to be on getting it right, not just getting it done fast."

Can Seattle expect to make the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season the way the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017-18?

Commissioner Bettman pointed out how the Golden Knights played with emotion after the mass shooting on The Strip on Oct. 1, 2017. Daly pointed out how the other 30 teams had learned from their experience in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

"I think it's important to understand too that while the rules will be the same, the way the 30 clubs approach those rules in terms of protections and how they approach the expansion draft will be different," Daly said.

But Commissioner Bettman said the NHL learned from the Vegas experience that the rules worked in terms of creating a competitive team from the outset.

"They're going to be able to compete," Commissioner Bettman said. "Who knows how far they're going to go in the first year?"

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