NEW YORK -- The expansion bid by Seattle to join the NHL moved closer to fruition Tuesday when the NHL Executive Committee recommended that the proposal go to a full vote of the Board of Governors.
"The recommendation was to proceed with expansion in Seattle, subject to completing the process early with a report and presentation to the full board in December," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said after the Board of Governors met at a Manhattan hotel. The Commissoner said the recommendation from the Executive Committee was unanimous.
The BOG next meets in Sea Island, Georgia, on Dec. 3-4, the earliest the vote could happen.
Seattle is bidding to become the 32nd NHL franchise. It would start play, in the 2020-21 season at the earliest, depending on arena availability.
"The focus for everybody is 2020 and that's what we're focused on," Commissioner Bettman said. "There are a variety of factors that could impact that, including the (arena) construction timeline. The sooner construction can begin, the more likely for an early start. And if everything can be accomplished, 2020 would be the goal. If not, then we'll go with 2021. But I think everybody's preference would be sooner rather than later."
Video: Gary Bettman gives an update on Seattle expansion
The Seattle ownership group reached an agreement with the city Sept. 6 to redevelop KeyArena and commit to a long-term lease agreement with the newly named Seattle Arena.
The ownership group, including majority owner David Bonderman and minority owners Jerry Bruckheimer and David Wright, joined Seattle Hockey Partners president and CEO Tod Leiweke and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in meeting with the Executive Committee at the NHL's Manhattan office Tuesday morning.
"With the mayor's help, what we tried to get across was Seattle is ready for a team," Bonderman said. "We've got potentially a facility that will get built, a partnership with the city and away we go. All we need is a franchise."
Commissioner Bettman said he was impressed by the presentation.
"Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country," Commissioner Bettman said. "It gives us a geographic balance. It creates a nice geographic rivalry with (the) Vancouver (Canucks). I know Vancouver is particularly excited about the possibility. The ownership group, the plans for the arena … I think Mayor Durkan did an excellent job presenting the case for Seattle as a city and there's a base for enthusiasm for Seattle hockey."
Canucks chairman Francesco Aquilini said he's hoping Seattle will be awarded a franchise.
"I think it's exciting," he said. "We want a team in Seattle. It's great for Vancouver, it's great for the League."
The Seattle group did not attend the Board of Governors meeting.
"We're going to be patient," Leiweke said. "We're going to let the process go its way. It's the NHL that's in control of that process. We're not presumptuous, we're not going to get in front of them and we're not going to declare an early victory. We're going to wait, be patient and be completely respectful. It's been a long time coming and we can be patient."
The NHL expanded to Las Vegas in 2016, and the Vegas Golden Knights joined the League for the 2017-18 season. They made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games. Vegas paid an expansion fee of $500 million; the fee for the Seattle group is $650 million.
Commissioner Bettman said NHL Expansion Draft rules that were in place for Vegas would remain the same for the next expansion, meaning teams would be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and one goalie. The Golden Knights would be exempt from the expansion draft.