Seattle needs to shift focus from NBA to NHL

By Brandon Cline, Sports Writer

While the NBA continues to scorn Seattle and use it as leverage against cities resistant to publicly funding basketball arenas, the NHL continues to wait on Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced on Feb. 25 that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Seattle Arena proposal, which would be suited for both a basketball and hockey arena, will be completed by May 7.

Murray also told King 5 News’ Chris Daniels he is willing to talk with Seattle’s City Council to make changes to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which currently only allows for construction to begin on an arena when investor Chris Hansen acquires an NBA team, either via relocation or expansion.

Murray’s proposal would be to modify the MOU so that construction would begin on an arena when the NHL has awarded Seattle a team, rather than the NBA.

For the near future, at least, the odds of Hansen acquiring a basketball franchise look slim, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stated on many occasions there are currently no plans for expansion or relocation.

If Hansen is willing, altering the MOU to allow the arena to be built whenever an NHL or NBA franchise is acquired will be the best move for getting both another sports team in Seattle and eventually getting the NBA back in Seattle, where it belongs.

With the NHL almost certainly coming to Washington before the NBA, the NHL franchise would occupy the arena, getting good use out of it and having an arena already built for when the NBA comes calling.

Earlier in the year, Murray met separately with Silver and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He told Daniels, “The NHL indicated a willingness to move here as soon as there is an arena.”

In a March 1 Seattle Times article, Geoff Baker reported that Bettman has been pressuring Murray into hastening the process for completing the EIS on the Seattle Arena, altering the MOU and issuing Hansen a Master Use permit by the beginning of 2016.

“We have 14 teams in the Western Conference, 16 teams in the East. That’s an imbalance that we’ll want to remedy,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at the annual State of the NHL Address held by himself and Bettman during the All-Star Break in January.

Meanwhile, Silver told Eldridge Recasner — former University of Washington basketball player and retired NBA player — at a National Basketball Retired Players Association Board of Directors Meeting on Feb. 14 that he was surprised no arena had been built in Seattle yet.

If Silver did his due diligence and knew anything about Hansen’s proposal — he should, the Sacramento Kings almost relocated to Seattle in 2013 — he would know the construction of the arena hinges on the acquiring of the team and not the other way around.

Hansen’s proposal is smart and Silver’s line of thought is borderline idiotic. If Hansen builds the arena before acquiring a team, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that the NBA would award Seattle a team.

If that were to happen, an arena costing $490 million, $200 million of which would be paid by public funds generated by the arena, would be collecting dust. Meanwhile, it seems the NBA still hasn’t recognized that the fifteenth-largest metropolitan area in the United States still doesn’t have a team, according to 2013 estimates by the United States Census Bureau.

While Hansen has no desire to be the owner of Seattle’s NHL team, he has entered into a non-binding agreement with real estate investor Victor Coleman, according to Daniels. Coleman would buy the hockey franchise and contribute in financing the arena, though the terms and arrangement of how much each side would contribute have not been made public.

Regardless if it’s Hansen and Coleman or another investment group that brings hockey to the Pacific Northwest, the path Seattle should take is clear: Say hello to the NHL and goodbye, for the moment, to the NBA.