SEATTLE — On his first trip to Seattle since the city was granted the NHL's 32nd franchise, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a couple more rewards for the future franchise's investment.
Bettman said the league has promised Seattle it will host All-Star weekend within its first seven seasons, with the team slated to begin play in 2021-22. Bettman also says Seattle will host the NHL draft, and that event will likely be awarded before the All-Star Game arrives.
"It doesn't mean we are going to wait seven years," Bettman said. "We're going to be bringing league events here. This is where we want to be."
Bettman's unexpected and informal announcement was part of his first visit to Seattle since the franchise was approved by the league's Board of Governors in early December. Bettman met with members of the ownership group, political leaders in the city, fans who have placed deposits on season tickets and reviewed the status of the massive renovation of the arena at Seattle Center where the team will play.
Seattle's ownership group has put up over $1.5 billion in expansion fees, upgrades to the building formerly known as KeyArena, and a state-of-the-art practice facility that is expected to open in time to host the first training camp.
"If you talk about in terms of kicking the tires, the tires are in great shape," Bettman said. "We couldn't be more excited. When the board made the decision to come to Seattle, we knew it was the right decision, it would be a great decision and everything that has transpired has not only lived up to expectation but has exceeded our expectations."
The franchise initially hoped to open for the 2020 season, but it is using the additional year to ensure the arena is operational well ahead of the team's home opener. It also gives the team more time to put together its hockey staff.
The team still doesn't have a name or color scheme. Bettman said the league would mostly stay out of the selection process, aside from working with the Seattle franchise in colors, trademarks and other logistical parts of the expansion name. Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke said the goal is to have a name announced by the middle of 2019. The franchise will be taking major input from fans that have put deposits down on season tickets.
Leiweke said the team's goal is to have a portal launched within the next 60 days for season-ticket depositors to provide feedback and to inform them of the timeframe for decisions and announcements moving forward.
"If I have my way, their fingerprints are going to be all over this franchise. Certainly a team name, but they're going to help us build this," Leiweke said.
Some fans are hoping to see a return of the Seattle Metropolitans — a historic name in Seattle, since the Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917. That name might be off the table, though, since the NHL has a division with that name.
Bettman was asked if that name can be ruled out.
"Viscerally, yes," he said, "but I never say never to anything."