By GREG BEACHAM
LAS VEGAS (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shares the sports world’s amazement at the Vegas Golden Knights’ ability to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence. But if the league adds another team in Seattle in the near future, Bettman expects it to have every opportunity to accomplish the same feat under the same favorable expansion terms given to Vegas. The commissioner also acknowledged that the Emerald City could secure that expansion team within the year.
The Golden Knights are hosting the Washington Capitals after winning the Western Conference in an inaugural season that “quite simply astonished the sporting world,” Bettman said in his usual state-of-the-league remarks before the Final opened on Monday night. Sour grapes were understandable among the fans of other NHL teams after Vegas’ incredible ascent to the top of a league with 12 other teams that have never won the Stanley Cup and seven more that haven’t won it in the last 20 years.
The Golden Knights cleverly built this winner with an undeniably generous expansion draft that allowed them to select the likes of franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and many other proven NHL players. Yet Bettman said he has received “no pushback whatsoever” about the favorable expansion draft from the league’s other 30 owners “I think people (around hockey) are excited,” Bettman said. “I think it’s gotten their attention.” Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly both confirmed the NHL plans to keep the same rules on the next expansion draft. If it happens within the next two years, as increasingly expected, Vegas won’t have to lose any of its players, Daly added.
The vote on adding a Seattle franchise won’t happen in June when the board of governors meets during the league’s annual awards show in Las Vegas, Bettman said. But the board will get an update on Seattle’s plans, and a formal vote could happen later this year, perhaps at meetings in September or December. “There is a lot of due diligence that has to be done, a lot of interaction with the prospective ownership group,” Bettman said of the group headed by billionaire investment banker David Bonderman. “We think we’re on target, and depending on how everything goes, it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a possibility that in the fall, early winter at the latest, that this could be addressed by the board.
But we’re not there yet, and there is still work to be done.” Seattle hopes to be ready to become the NHL’s 32nd franchise in 2020, pending a $600 million renovation of Key Arena. But after the energizing effect of the Golden Knights on this hockey season, the league’s appetite for expansion — and the likely $650 million fee that will be split among the league’s other owners — has been whetted. The NHL also has talked about adding a franchise in Houston, the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. or Canada without a team.
Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has showed interest in joining the league, but a bid likely is years away. “I don’t think at this point in time there’s interest in filing for an expansion franchise,” Daly said. “I think they’re relatively new NBA owners. They’re getting their feet under them in terms of operating that franchise, knowing that that means. At some point in time, we’ll have a discussion with them about whether there’s an NHL team to pursue.”