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NHL Seattle confident with long-term building plan

Looking to follow same route to expansion success Golden Knights had

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

VANCOUVER -- The Seattle NHL expansion team won't take the ice until the 2021-22 season. It has no name, no colors, no general manager. The old arena near the Space Needle is in the demolition phase; the new arena under the historic roof is yet to be built.

But NHL Seattle sent a group to the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on Friday, looking ahead two years. The organization will have a brand and a hockey operations department, and Seattle hopes to host the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and the 2021 NHL Draft in what will be a world-class building.

"We didn't assume we'd get that 32nd franchise, and we're not going to make any assumptions about the draft," NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said. "But we've clearly indicated it's something we think would be a fabulous way to start our franchise."

In a packed press event with Jerry Bruckheimer, the Hollywood producer who is part of the ownership group, Leiweke said there was no sense of urgency to announce the nickname and colors.

"We want to get it right," Leiweke said. "It's a complicated world. There's lots of trademark restrictions out there and names already taken. And part of it is, the longer we're going as an enterprise, the more we know what we stand for and the more we know what we don't stand for. And it's really helping inform that. And I think as anxious as people are to have us wear a name on our chest, taking our time is going to serve us well in getting it right."

Leiweke said NHL Seattle would like to hire a GM sooner rather than later, though it will take as long as necessary to find the right person. He referred to the Vegas Golden Knights, who hired George McPhee and went to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18.

"I think the challenge for us is to hire the same kind of caliber of people in leadership that Las Vegas did, and we like our chances," Leiweke said, listing selling points for NHL Seattle, from the city to the arena to a new training center. "I think we're going to get top, top talent in the GM spot. I think we have a chance to build out a world-class staff around that GM. 

"We're prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things, so we're prepared to do that. And part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks, getting their take. And it's really a lot of fun."

NHL Seattle officials toured Rogers Arena on Thursday, thinking of how the NHL Draft could look in Seattle. Leiweke and Bruckheimer stressed that the former KeyArena is not being renovated and that the new arena under the historic roof will be impressive.

"Two years from now you can judge for yourself, but we think we're building one of the greatest buildings in the world," Leiweke said. "Perhaps in two years we'll be hosting a very similar conference like this, and instead of projecting that we're going to have one of the most beautiful buildings, you're going to be asking us questions, saying, 'Wow. How did this happen?"'

Bruckheimer said, "We're excited to show this building to the world, because it's really spectacular. We're sitting on something that you haven't seen yet, but I'm really proud of it and can't wait for everybody to see it."

Leiweke, who had leadership roles with the Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning, has run into a lot of old friends here. But he is well aware that teams already are maneuvering with the expansion draft in mind. 

"I think the teams are really excited, and they're really friendly right now," he said. "I'm not so sure they're going to be that way forever, but for the time being, it's fantastic.

"And so it's just being around them, letting them know we're here, and then for Jerry and I, starting to think about how we're going to put this together, so that in two years we're brilliantly positioned to perhaps host this event but for sure participate in this event."

Is Leiweke already doing mock drafts?

"Every day," he said. "Can't watch a game without looking and saying, 'One day, one or two or three or four of these players in this very game are going to be wearing 'Seattle' across their chest."

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