The Sharks will have a new rival in the 2021-2022 season, as the Pacific Division is set for a makeover.
The NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously approved Seattle Hockey Partners’ expansion application to bring the league’s 32nd team to the Emerald City on Tuesday. The Seattle franchise will begin play in 2021-22, at the renovated KeyArena.
Seattle will face the same expansion draft format as the Vegas Golden Knights last summer. The team will be able to select one player from 30 teams. That excludes the Golden Knights, who will not get a cut of the $650 million expansion fee NHL Seattle will pay.
The league’s newest franchise will play in the Pacific Division, and the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central to give the NHL four divisions with eight teams. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Tuesday that the Coyotes draw better attendance against Central Division teams.
But the divisional move combined with the Desert Dogs’ ownership and attendance issues will only drive speculation that a move away from Arizona is inevitable. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Feritta said last year he was “very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” while Kansas City’s Sprint Center has hosted preseason games before and is ready for a tenant. With the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues already in the Central, there’s natural potential for a rivalry -- a la Seattle joining the Vancouver Canucks in the new-look Pacific.
The NHL initially authorized Seattle’s application to play in the 2020-21 season, but the team will join the league in 2021-22 because of possible construction delays at KeyArena, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.
The league and the NHLPA can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement next September, which means the CBA would expire in 2020, which is when Seattle initially hoped to start play. A 2021 start may very well prevent construction delays, but it won’t do anything to prevent speculation the NHL is headed towards a fourth lockout since 1994.