The NHL’s expansion party wasn’t as well attended as expected. And it sounds like Gary Bettman & Co. is just a little bit bitter about the whole thing.
The league confirmed on Tuesday that Las Vegas and Quebec City had delivered on their RSVPs before the deadline for applications passed on Monday afternoon. But the other 14 invitees were no-shows.
No Toronto. No Portland. No Houston. No Proctor, Minn.
And no Seattle.
That’s the one that had to hurt. The league already knew what it had in Vegas and QC. But this whole process was geared toward getting someone from the herd of would-be Emerald City owners onto the dance floor. By the time the music started, though, all three Seattle-based groups had retreated meekly to the back wall.
An effort based in Bellevue, Wash., and spearheaded by longtime NHL power broker Jac Sperling never really found its footing and fell apart in the last two weeks.
Victor Coleman, the real estate mogul behind the effort to bring a team to the SoDo area of Seattle, revealed last Friday that he had been unable to make a deal work with landowner Chris Hansen on a prospective arena. Hansen’s existing arena proposal, which was approved three years ago by the Seattle and King County councils, only includes public financing if Hansen were to acquire an NBA team. An NHL team would need a new or amended agreement to get public money for the purposes of building an arena.
And on Monday, investment banker Ray Bartoszek—arguably the league’s best shot all along—revealed that he would not be submitting a bid before the deadline.
There are good reasons why all three failed to deliver. Finances, timing and politics, in some combination, weighed heavily against each of the prospective bids. But the NHL seemingly wasn’t interested in excuses. In fact, a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon smacked of wounded pride:
Our purpose, in initiating the expansion process in the manner we did, was not only to explore the possibility of admitting new members to the NHL but also, at the outset, to set realistic guideposts to distinguish between bona fide expressions of interest (i.e., those which have at least substantial ownership capabilities and an arena or the realistic possibility of an arena) from those indications of potential interest which were, at best, merely hopes or aspirations. Apparently, only [potential Las Vegas owner Bill] Foley and Quebecor have the confidence in their ability to secure an arena and suitable ownership capability to move forward with this process.
We now intend to focus exclusively on the two expansion applications that have been submitted in accordance with the previously announced process. The process we have outlined for qualified applicants includes at least two more stages of documentation submission. We will provide no further updates until there is something substantive to announce.
So, what to take from this?
While there is still due diligence to be performed, Las Vegas has been viewed as a done deal for some time now. Considering how the prospective ownership group has played along with the league’s rules and how far along they are in the process, it will be a shock if the Black Knights aren’t in action on opening night of the 2017–18 season. And given the new arena/well-heeled ownership combo in Quebec City—and the desire to save a little face and keep the league’s number of teams an even 32—it’s a good bet that the Nordiques will be joining them (although Quebec group will certainly be hoping for a rebound in the value of the loonie before the next check is due; at today’s exchange rate, the rumored $500 million U.S. expansion fee would run close to $650 million in Canadian dollars).
Everyone else? They’ll have to wait years before they can even think of crawling up to league headquarters to ask for a second chance.
But before they do, they’d better have an arena in place. And probably an even bigger check in hand.
NHL expansion teams and their fates
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