NHL approves expansion to Seattle as league's 32nd franchise

SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- The NHL is coming to Seattle.

League commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement on Tuesday at a press conference following the conclusion of the board of governors meetings.

The NHL's 32nd team was unanimously approved in a vote and will begin play in 2021-22 in a renovated Key Arena.

Seattle's ownership group led by billionaire David Bonderman and a number of minority partners, including Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, will pay an expansion fee of US$650 million.

The Vegas Golden Knights paid $500 million when they joined the league in 2016.

"The league's expansion decision was only made possible because Seattle will possess the three pillars essential to the success of any franchise: terrific committed ownership, a thriving market and a state-of-the-art venue," Bettman said.

Bettman also noted that Seattle has a rich hockey history. The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadians in 1917.

Seattle will play in the Pacific Division, meaning the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central Division.

The new team gives the NHL an even 16 franchises in the Eastern and Western conferences and will provide the Vancouver Canucks a natural geographic rival for the first time.

"There's going to be a built-in rivalry (with Vancouver)," said Tod Leiweke, Seattle Hockey Partners president and CEO. "I don't want to stoke the flames here because those guys are my friends, but bring it on, we can't wait.

"That might be the one night I walk into the locker room and say to the boys 'give it a little more tonight."'

Viewed as a slam dunk ahead of the vote, expansion to Seattle -- the largest U.S. market without an NHL or NBA team prior to today's announcement -- required 75 per cent approval, in this case a thumbs up from 24 of 31 owners, to pass.

The $650-million expansion fee will be divided up between 30 NHL teams. Vegas does not get a cut of the money and is exempt from the expansion draft.

The board's nine-member executive committee recommended proceeding with the expansion application back in October after a presentation that included Bonderman, Bruckheimer and Leiweke.

KeyArena, which was home to the NBA's SuperSonics before they moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, is primed to undergo a massive $800-million renovation.

A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday in downtown Seattle.

After the NHL said it would consider the potential ownership group's expansion application at this time last year, a season-ticket drive to gauge interest resulted in a jaw-dropping 32,000 deposits, including 10,000 purchased in the first 12 minutes.

There are also plans to build a $70-million practice facility.