Posted on: February 17, 2012 4:28 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 4:32 pm

Optimism rises in Phoenix in owner search

By Brian Stubits

Perhaps it's just a matter of timing after Seattle announced plans for a new arena contingent on securing NBA and NHL franchises, but there is sight of optimism again in Phoenix.

While the play of the Coyotes of late has increased the optimism they could be headed to the postseason for a third consecutive season, the off-ice story is the one that continues to hang over their heads. And for the first time in a really long time there is something that sounds positive for keeping the team in the desert.

From the Arizona Republic:

For now, there are only whispers. But Jerry Colangelo hears potential buyers are "milling around." Former NHL star Jeremy Roenick said he's been approached by Greg Jamison, the former San Jose Sharks CEO who is trying to raise sufficient funds. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently said there's a third party involved, joining the Jamison Group.

One source said this third party is not only very real, but extremely wealthy and spending serious money on due diligence. That's a great sign. And you can't help but notice the renewed faith in the voice of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett.

"We are still hoping for a good ending," Tippett said. "You look at what's happened over the last three years, and we've found a way to stay competitive. I think there's a ton of upside with this team [for any investor]. We just have to find a way to get the deal done."

Now I've learned over the last couple of years (feels like even longer) not to get too excited with any signs of optimism concerning a new owner for the Coyotes. We've been down this road many times and here we are, still looking at the team being owned by the NHL.

As I noted, the timing is a bit interesting. The story comes out within 24 hours of Seattle revealing its plan. To secure an NHL franchise, everybody immediately looks at the Coyotes as the team that would be needed in Seattle for the arena. Whether that's intentional or not, I don't know.

But lending creedance to it being more than just a well-timed response is the story that drifted out last week about Jeremy Roenick saying he was contacted about investing in a potential ownership group. So the iron was a little hot before the Seattle news surfaced.

It's finally coming to the pot of doing it or getting off the pot, if you know what I mean.

This much is certain: The NHL will not allow the city of Glendale to rent the team for another year and another $25 million. That means the endgame is coming. The time for band-aids is over, and the Coyotes actually share that philosophy.

Well this is a good sign at least, but I'll wait for something more tangible.

More from Eye on Hockey

How would Seattle fare with NHL?
Seattle unveils plan for arena
Roenick trying to get involved

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 16, 2012 11:32 am
Edited on: February 16, 2012 3:29 pm

How would Seattle fare as a hockey market?

An old Seattle Thunderbirds sweater. (Seattlehockey.net)

By Brian Stubits

With the news coming out of a plan in the works to build a new, state-of-the-art arena in Seattle, the conversation that was just talking for talking's sake about the NHL in Seattle has become a lot more real. All of a sudden it looks like an NHL-viable city.

I get the sense from reading my Twitter timeline, talking to other media members and seeing fan comments that the majority of people are excited about hockey moving to Seattle, that it'd be a fantastic place for the NHL.

However there are skeptics. The hockey community seems excited at the idea of Seattle having a team, but is Seattle excited? The apple of its eye with the new arena is getting the NBA's SuperSonics back. That's priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

While the man talking about building the new arena, Seattle native Chris Hansen, is focused on the NBA and has reportedly not talked to the NHL at all, that doesn't mean there isn't other interested parties who would like to work together. There's interest elsewhere according to Chris Daniels of King TV in Seattle.

So the question remains: Would Seattle be a good hockey market? 

Before I go any further I must disclose that I call the Puget Sound area home. I grew up 30 miles south of Seattle in Tacoma and know the region's sports passions and teams. I grew up a fan of the Mariners, Seahawks and Sonics.

With that out of the way, back to our regularly scheduled reading program.

The Puget Sound area, despite its proximity to Canada, is not a hockey hotbed. Although Seattle does have the distinction of being the first American city to hoist the Stanley Cup when the Seattle Metropolitans did it in 1917, it has never been home to an NHL franchise. It came close during the expansion era of the early 1990s, but obviously that didn't happen.

What it does have, though, is an appetite for hockey. Seattle has long had the Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. Tacoma has seen a couple of teams come through over the years in the WHL's Rockets and the Sabercats of the WCHL, which folded operations. Everett, to the north of Seattle, has a nice new arena that's home to the WHL's Silvertips.

Let's start with them, shall we? In the 2010-11 season, the Thunderbirds -- who now play in the suburb of Kent instead of Key Arena in Seattle -- averaged 4,096 fans per night. The Silvertips a short ways north of the city averaged 5,807 fans per game. That's a combined nearly 10,000 patrons per game for the local junior teams, assuming there's little to no overlap. That's not a bad start, especially for junior hockey, which isn't going to draw as much interest as the NHL.

Furthering the already established hockey presence in the Puget Sound area, Chris Peters of United States of Hockey mentions that the state of Washington already has a pretty strong rec hockey presence, and that's without any NHL roots. Plus, it's the 12th biggest media market in the USA.

Also, the state of Washington has more of an established hockey culture than most of the Sunbelt states the NHL expanded to in the 1990s. A lot of that is thanks to hockey’s nationwide growth in popularity over the last decade. So timing may also be in Seattle and the NHL’s favor in terms of projecting success.

There are nearly 8,000 USA Hockey registered hockey players (PDF) in Washington. It’s not a huge hockey-playing population, but it has consistently grown over the last 20 years. Since 1991, Washington’s USA Hockey player membership has grown by 234.1 percent. There has been a particular spike in growth at the 8 & Under age levels in the last five years, which mirrors what’s been happening across the country.

While the Silvertips are still new to the scene having really only Peter Mueller to speak of from the alumni list, the Thunderbirds do have some notable alumni who have gone on to the NHL. Chief among that group is San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, drafted out of Seattle with the No. 2 overall pick in 1997. He still has some impressions of playing in Seattle.

"Oh I loved it there," Marleau told CBSSports.com with a smile overtaking his face. "I think they'd probably grasp it, take it and run with it. I think they have some great fans there."

But what kind of market would it be for the NHL?

"You never really know until it happens but I think there's definitely a market there," Marleau said. "There's definitely a lot of hockey that goes on there, minor-league hockey. A lot of teams close to the Canadian border too. Everything looks like it would work."

We've seen it in action and on a one-time basis recently and that worked out well. Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning played an exhibition game in Everett. The arena was packed with 7,281 fans excited to see NHL hockey.

Fans take in the Coyotes and Lightning in 2009 in Everett.

Everett GM Doug Soetaert -- a former member of the New York Rangers -- has little doubt hockey's top level would go over as smooth as freshly zambonied ice in the arena.

"In the right location, in a brand-new building, it would go very well," Soetaert told the Seattle Times in 2009.

There are some hockey fans on the Sound's south side. I attended a lot of games at the Tacoma Dome watching the Sabercats, that's where I fell in love with hockey. My dad and I would always just walk up and buy tickets to the game and walk in, no problem.

I remember one day in 1998 that was a lot more difficult than normal when the lines outside the arena were into the parking lot. That night more than 14,000 fans were in attendance for live hockey in the Puget Sound area. Minor professional hockey. I didn't enjoy my normal seats a couple rows up from the ice being relocated to the upper deck, but it was an experience. And a sign, I thought, that hockey fans do exist.

At their peak the Sabercats averaged 4,878 fans per game but the numbers did dwindle down to below 3,000 and the team folded before some of their WCHL brethren joined the ECHL (for those who are curious, the Idaho Steelheads, Alaska Aces and Bakersfield Condors were the survivors).

In general, Seattle is a good sports town. Not a great one, but a good one. It has taken soccer and run with it, just check out a Seattle Sounders game on TV. You'll think it's an English Premier League game until you watch a couple seconds of the on-pitch action.

I know a lot of people who swore off the NBA when the Sonics left town. They began hoping for a hockey team to take hold of. Some say they'll never go back to the NBA if Stern is still around, that's how deep the hatred was over the loss of the Sonics. No matter the reason, hockey has a chance to be a rebound. Some fans are just sitting in the unmanned crease waiting for the push.

Even still, hockey would be down the list of Seattle sports. It's possible it could be the sixth or seventh most popular ticket in town with the Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics 2.0, Sounders and University of Washington's football and basketball teams.

In reality, though, I don't think that means it couldn't work. There are few if any cities in the USA where the hockey team is the most popular. It doesn't mean it's not a good market for hockey. For example: the Red Sox, Patriots and arguably Celtics are all bigger than the Bruins in Boston. But would anybody even think of saying Boston isn't a good hockey market?

As Marleau said, we'll never know how well it would take to NHL hockey unless it happens and we can see it in action.

There are probably more hoping Seattle gets a team outside of the region than in it, particularly on the left coast.

"It'd be nice to have another West Coast team," Marleau pointed out. I bet the people of Seattle would agree.

As for what to call a team in Seattle? Join the converstaion on Facebook to check out some ideas.

More from Eye on Hockey

Seattle to unveil new arena plans
Daly: Group interested in NHL in Seattle

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 15, 2012 9:18 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 9:15 am

Report: Seattle to announce arena plan Thursday

Seattle could get some new sports teams. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

A new arena in Seattle -- and the possibility of a hockey team moving there -- is so close they can smell it.

According to Chris Daniels of King TV in Seattle, the city has called a news conference at City Hall for Thursday at which point they will announce the plans for a new arena to be built on the south side of the city.

Arena News Conference scheduled for tomorrow. I'm told Hedge Fund/Land Owner Chris Hansen is in town. He met with council members.

This would be unprecedented for Seattle. We're potentially talking a BILLION dollar deal, with an arena, and two teams.

The Seattle Times had a little more, getting a quote from Hansen earlier this week.

"We're very close to announcing our offer to the city. That's why I'm here," the 44-year-old hedge-fund manager said on Tuesday.

Well this got interesting fast. Before it was just chatter, the possibility of Seattle getting an NHL team -- and NBA franchise -- was just fun speculation, but it meant nothing without a new arena and considering the troubles Seattle had in the past of getting a new arena built, it seemed like some long odds.

But this, this is a game changer.

There was a sense of urgency to get a deal announced soon, too. The main prize for the city and Hansen, a Seattle native who now lives in San Francisco, is to get the NBA back. The city lost its SuperSonics to Oklahoma City a few years ago. Their eyes are on the Sacramento Kings who have a deadline in March to get a new arena deal worked out.

But on the hockey front, there is also the Phoenix Coyotes situation still unresolved. There is a growing belief that something will have to happen soon and if they don't have a new local buyer, this might be their last season in the desert. The question is where could they move.

Seattle has been a talking point in that regard as a home, but there was no arena. Obviously a new arena wouldn't be ready to host a hockey team for a couple of years if it doesn't yet exist, but the promise of a new arena could be enough for a team to play somewhere temporarily.

There is a hockey history to speak of in Seattle. The Metropolitans were the first American team to ever win the Stanley Cup. But the NHL has been conspicuously absent from the Emerald City. However there are two WHL teams that play in the area, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips.

Now the talk of hockey in Seattle can get serious after this news tonight.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 5, 2012 1:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 1:28 pm

Report: Seattle already in talks for new arena

Key Arena (front right) isn't suitable for an NHL franchise.

By Brian Stubits

It seems like we've been talking about this for a decade, but it really feels like the Coyotes situation in is coming to a head, that this will be their last season in the desert if they can't get anything figured out to keep the team where it is in the next two or so months.

Of course you have to answer the question of where would they move before you can think about moving the Coyotes. There has to be a place to play. One of the most-discussed markets is Seattle (along with Quebec City and Kansas City a little bit). But Seattle doesn't have a suitable arena, that's why they lost the SuperSonics in the NBA to Oklahoma City. Key Arena is just too out of date.

There has been a lot of talk about new cites that could host an arena in the area and some potential people to help finance it.

Turns out there's more than talk at this point, there's action from Seattle's end.

According to the Seattle Times a San Francisco hedge-fund manager who grew up in Seattle has been in talks with the city of Seattle about building a new, state-of-the-art arena south of Downtown by CenturyLink Field (NFL's Seahawks and MLS' Sounders) and Safeco Field (MLB's Mariners).

A Dec. 13 agenda for a meeting between the parties shows they were talking about details such as a "Review of Basic Deal Structure," "Financing Issues," including "City Debt Capacity," and "Security for Public Financing."

The documents, released Friday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request, also provide the first glimpse of how the largely unknown hedge-fund manager, 44-year-old Seattle native Christopher Hansen, approached the city about his desire to buy an NBA team and build an arena south of Safeco Field.

In an initial email laying out his vision, Hansen told city officials an arena could be built with minimal impact on taxpayers.

The driving force behind the push for a new arena is so that the city can get the Sonics back, with the Sacramento Kings being the likely target. As part of the agreement of the Sonics vacating the city was that it would retain the rights to the Sonics name and logo should the NBA return to Seattle.

But our concern here isn't with the NBA, it's obviously hockey. The Times article notes that it is believed a hockey team would vastly improve the viability of a new arena and would be pretty crucial to its financial success.

If Seattle can solidify plans for a new arena or even break ground it immediately becomes a viable suitor for an NHL franchise. Key Arena isn't ideal, but it could potentially serve as a temporary home while a new arena is finished. The cavernous Tacoma Dome some 30 miles south of Seattle could also be a possibility, but highly unlikely. As somebody who grew up watching games at the Tacoma Dome, it isn't great for hockey at all, and that was very minor-league hockey.

The NHL has supposedly been fond of Seattle as a host city. It would have a natural rivalry with the Canucks some two-plus hours up I-5, it's a somewhat cold-weather city that does have a hockey history to speak of as well. For years it has been home to the Thunderbirds in the WHL and nearby Everett also hosts a WHL team. Aforementioned Tacoma has also had a couple of teams. Plus, Seattle was the first city in the United States to win the Stanley Cup.

"There are a lot of people who think Seattle would be a great place to have a team. The Pacific Northwest, the natural rivalry with Vancouver, another team in the Pacific time zone ... but there's no building," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told ESPN.com.

As we saw when the Sonics left, getting an arena with public finances in Seattle is a very tough proposition. There is a law in the city that requires any deal the city has regarding an arena has to be profitable for the city. So that's to say things are still a ways off for Seattle and a new arena, but this revelation makes it sound a lot further along than people thought.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 4, 2011 9:45 am

Daily Skate: Bryzgalov tempers Philly enthusiasm

By Brian Stubits

HOLD YOUR HORSES, PHILLY: Expectations are through the roof in Philadelphia as the Flyers finally have themselves a No. 1 goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. But the Russian is trying to dial back those expectations: "I came here, and I can't promise the people that next summer we will celebrate the Stanley Cup. I don't want to lie. Yeah, the goalie is a big part and has to play well, but you have to get support from the team. The whole team has to play well to win the Stanley Cup." (Philly.com)

HELL OF A DINNER: One way to make sure you are eating right? Go to the gourmet chefs. That's what Ryan Clowe of the San Jose Sharks did over the weekend, having a dinner made by none other than Gordon Ramsay of Hell's Kitchen fame. (Ryan Clowe Twitter)

POINT TAKEN: Bodog.com released its Stanley Cup odds a few weeks ago by installing the Capitals and Canucks as co-favorites to win it all. So naturally, the Caps and Canucks also topped the over/under list for point totals this season, with Washington first at 107.5. Seems like a safe over to me. (Red Light District Hockey)

HARDING HURTING: Wild backup goaltender Josh Harding suffered a minor ankle injury on a team-building trip, so they were a little short in net when it came timefor practice. Enter Wild assistant to the GM Jim Mill, who strapped on the pads for the first time in 15 years and helped the Wild with some serious spot duty. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

SEATTLE'S PLAN: Since losing the NBA's SuperSonics, Seattle has been without a basketball and hockey team but has shown interest in getting one or both in town. The problem is why the Sonics left: Key Arena is no longer suitable. So a lawmaker has a plan for a sports tax to help fund a new arena. If they build it, then they'll play the Kansas City waiting game. (King 5)

BLADES WEEK 2: For those that are interested, I pass along to you a recap of Canada's Battle of the Blades from Sunday night. Enjoy. (Puck Daddy)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 1:10 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 8:26 pm

Daly: Group interested in having NHL in Seattle

Looks like there's another city trying to get its hands on an NHL franchise.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told a Seattle television station there is a group from the area that has contacted the league about getting a team in town.

“We’ve had discussions with a group in Seattle,” Daly said. “Certainly [there are] people who are interested in having NHL hockey in Seattle. I would rather not get into specifics to be fair to that group, or the process.”

Right now there are two organizations seeking new ownership. One appears to be spoken for already -- Atlanta, by a group from Winnipeg -- but the Coyotes are still on the market. They won't be vacating Arizona yet as the city of Glendale agreed to cover much of the operating costs to keep the team in place for another season while the ownership search continues.

Of course, as Daly admits, the biggest hurdle of all for a team in Seattle is the lack of a suitable arena. That fact is what led to the NBA's Supersonics moving to Oklahoma City. Key Arena, long the home for the Sonics, isn't suitable for enough seats for the NHL. It had a long-time tenant in the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds -- who have a great logo, in my humble opinion -- but there are only 10,000 or so unobstructed views. Plus, the place is old, by arena standards.

For this reason alone, relocation to the Puget Sound area isn't feasible at the moment. To do so, the fight for a new arena in Seattle or the surrounding area -- neighboring city Bellevue has been thrown out as an option -- would have to resume. It did not go very well for Sonics ownership last time, finding the state unwilling to commit much in the way of public funds. There is also a group interested in bringing the NBA back to town, so possibly the two groups, assuming they aren't the same, could join together and try to secure a new building.

The other cities that have long been mentioned in grabbing NHL teams are Hamilton, Ontario (Jim Balsillie), Quebec City, whose fans have been seen at Islanders games in old Nordiques jerseys, and Kansas City, which has a brand new arena without a main tenant.

The NHL seems like it would be a good fit in the Seattle metro area -- the 13th largest television market in the United States. There would instantly be a natural rivalry with the Canucks as Vancouver is about two hours up I-5. It is a cold-weather city that has long shown support to minor league teams not only in Seattle, but in nearby Tacoma and Everett, too. Plus it's a sports market that has shown well, with the city's support of the MLS Sounders as Exhibit A.

The city has long had ties to hockey but has never made its way into the NHL. For an explanation of the history of hockey in Seattle and why the biggest league has never made it to town, take a read here.

Little known fact: Did you know the first team from the USA to win the Stanley Cup was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917?

-- Brian Stubits

Category: NHL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com