Who Deserves A Professional Hockey Team First: Seattle or Portland?

For those who haven’t been following the National Hockey League over the past five-ten years, the league is going through a bit of a flux with its teams. This begs the question: Does Seattle or Portland deserve a hockey team first?

In 2011, the poorly performing Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg; the former home of the Arizona Coyotes. Last year, the league announced that Las Vegas would be awarded the league’s 31st franchise. The league has also stated they are looking to award a 32nd franchise with Quebec City making the greatest strides to date. 

More importantly, there remains at least four organizations, coincidentally the bottom four in average attendance this season, that have been making legitimate headway toward becoming the next Thrashers. 

The Carolina Hurricanes, who sit at the bottom in league attendance with only an average of 12,000 a game, is currently seeking new ownership after the currently majority owner’s financials were put in limbo following a lawsuit settlement that could be in the range of $100m. Commissioner Gary Bettman has since stated the league is committed to Raleigh.

The Arizona Coyotes, trying to get out of a newly-built yet poorly located arena, had plans recently fall through that would’ve had them play near the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. The Coyotes have made to most news regarding potential relocation over the past few years with a new agreement between the arena, the city of Glendale, and the Coyotes having to be made every 1-2 years. All of this, capped off with the recent news that representatives with the team have visited the two cities mentioned in the title of this article, and the Coyotes could be leaving Arizona sooner rather than later. 

Barclays Center, the home of the New York Islanders, have told their tenant of two seasons that they want to kick them out in favor of being able to schedule other events such as concerts. If Barclays Center pulls the trigger and terminates their 25-year lease, the Islanders will have to leave following the 2018-19 season. If Islanders take the hint and move out on their own accord, they can do so after the 2017-18 season. The new ownership, who paid a hefty price for them based on their impending move from the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to Brooklyn, have shown no signs of moving back to their former home. While Hartford has stepped up to woo the Islanders with a new $250m renovation of XL Center, the renovation is still in the pipe dream phase. 

Meanwhile, Broward County officials has announced they’re commissioning plans to redevelop the land BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers, and its surrounding parking lots sit on; citing the space as “an opportunity lost” in its current state. The Panthers were given a new financial package, in 2015, by the county that gifts them $86m in taxpayer revenue over the next 13 years. Florida’s current lease at the arena extends until 2028 with an opt out in 2023 if their arena is around that long. 

Five potential targets for either Seattle or Portland. Five legitimate options they could sway toward the Pacific Northwest to join the Vancouver Canucks. That’s what these two cities have in front of them. 

So, who deserves a professional hockey first: Seattle or Portland?

Now, I’m not asking who WILL get a professional hockey team first. Based on news and indications over the past few years, Seattle clearly has the upper hand with multiple potential ownership groups expressing interest in the market whereas no legitimate groups have expressed interest in the Portland market. I’m purely looking at who DESERVES a team first: Seattle or Portland. Granted, I believe both cities deserve one based on demographics, population size, and sports culture compared to…well…there’s a reason Houston doesn’t even have a minor league hockey team.

Seriously, look it up. The fourth largest city in the US doesn’t even have a team as large as the Seattle Totems or Seattle Ravens. Is it a coincidence that four of the five most troubled NHL organizations over the past ten years have been located in the South (Atlanta, Arizona, Carolina, Florida). But I digress. 

For starters, Portland supporters will quickly point out how the Winterhawks have been consistently in the Top 3 of average attendance in the WHL over the past few seasons whereas the Seattle Thunderbirds have been in the middle of the pack. Good point. However, I believe when looking at WHL attendance as a parameter when determining who deserves an NHL franchise first, it’s important to group the attendance for the Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips together to gauge how much support there is for hockey in the Sea-Tac area. 

Therefore, while Portland had the second-highest average attendance last season in the WHL (7,004), Everett and Seattle combined to average 9,670. Since you can reasonably assume that an NHL team in Seattle might spell doom for Silvertips and Thunderbirds continued existence (after all, Seattle residents reasonably don’t have the same level of passion for hockey as Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver residents to support a WHL team alongside a NHL team) by eating into their attendance numbers equally, it makes sense to group them together in this case. 

If we’re looking at this from an infrastructure standpoint, Portland deserves an NHL team first. The Moda Center, which hosts numerous Winterhawks games each season, has shown that it is built for hockey. While housing a hockey team full-time would be different then hosting one-off games here and there and letting Memorial Coliseum host a bulk of the games, Moda Center at least has the sight lines for hockey and has showcased its capabilities to properly house an ice rink. 

Meanwhile, in Seattle…let’s just say the current infrastructure is better at causing headaches than hosting a hockey team. With Occidental Avenue continuing to be the Sparta of streets, KeyArena is in no way shape or form ready to house a pro hockey team. Due to its renovation in the 90s, the sight lines and capability to properly fit an ice rink were thrown out the window. When the Seattle Thunderbirds called KeyArena home before moving south, an entire end of the lower bowl’s seats had to be folded back in order to just fit an ice rink. While this might be okay in certain situations with minor league hockey teams, an issue like this is much too large to overlook for a NHL team. So, until the Persians take out the Spartans, hockey in Seattle is a no-go. 

Considering the fact that Portland are the only city with a NBA team have the Portland Trail Blazers, you could argue Seattle deserves a winter sports team more. If you look at the players Portland and Seattle have produced that have gone on to play in the NHL, you could also argue Seattle has a better talent pool than Portland and deserves a team because of that (though I will say Spokane has surprisingly produced twice as many NHL players than the Sea-Tac area). 

Ultimately, the Pacific Northwest is going to get a second NHL team in the next ten years (sorry Kansas City). Given its increasing size and economy, the NHL would be stupid not to have an American presence in the area. Whether or not Seattle or Portland gets the team, if only one team becomes available, remains to be seen. While Seattle ultimately have the edge in many important areas, the NHL awarded a hockey team to Nashville so Portland still has a shot. In the end, with numerous NHL teams in flux, Seattle or Portland (or Quebec City) is in front of the pecking order. How do the Seattle Islanders and Portland Coyotes sound?