Posted on December 10, 2013 at 9:13 AM
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- This is where the surf meets the sand. It’s a playground for the ocean seekers, and the golfers who flock here to play a round at the famed Pebble Beach, or The Links at Spanish Bay.
It’s not the kind of place that immediately brings to mind frozen ponds, a stick, or a puck.
But it is where, on Monday night, NHL team owners and executives converged for the annual December meeting of the Board of Governors. The meeting, at the Inn at Spanish Bay, included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. League owners approved a new salary cap, and Canadian television deal which will garner the league billions of dollars.
“The revenues have gone up, and that’s a good thing,” said Bettman after the meeting today.
It may also set the stage for talk of expansion. Bettman and his chief deputy, Bill Daly, have openly discussed the lure of Seattle, the largest U.S. city without an NHL franchise.
Last week, NHL great Jeremy Roenick was in Seattle, kicking the tires on a potential expansion franchise. A source close to the discussions claims Roenick wants to be a “front man” for any team, and there may be as many as three groups working to bring an NHL team to Seattle.
One part owner, and familiar face in Seattle, has heard the rumblings.
“I believe the NHL will work very, very well in Seattle,” said Tod Leiweke, the former Seahawks, Sounders, and Portland Trailblazers CEO. He’s now running the day-to-day operations of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, and is a minority investor in the franchise. He sat in on the meeting this afternoon.
“Hockey will work in Seattle,” he says bluntly after the meeting wrapped up at the hotel Monday. He says the league has taken notice of the fan support for the Seahawks, and Sounders in particular, and that it could be a selling point for any expansion franchise.
“The Roar of the 12th man is magnificent,” said Leiweke, and says the fan base performed brilliantly on the recent Monday night game. “16 million people saw that game. The building literally shook.”
“I think the league sees that, the aura of the market right now,” adds Leiweke, noting that the market size, and timing could be right. “It bodes well for expansion.”
However, even as someone who has a potential say in the matter, Leiweke says it’s unclear what the time frame for expansion could be.
“Are there enough hockey fans in the [Seattle] market? There are.” “I think everyone is aware that it is the largest market in North America without a winter sports team, so at some point in time, you're going to see something happen - how it lays out I won't look into my crystal ball,” said Leiweke.
Sources close to the formal discussions in Seattle had previously suggested Bettman was pushing owners for a new franchise in Seattle by the 2014-2015 season. The NHL has denied it, and Bettman, has since, poured water on the smoke. The league has given no indication it is even an item on the agenda at this board meeting.
It is unclear if the league would demand some sort of guarantee for a new building. Investor Chris Hansen’s proposal for a new NBA/NHL facility is currently undergoing a environmental and economic review.
However, the League’s commissioner is scheduled to address the media at the conclusion of business here tomorrow morning, and cover a wide variety of topics.