NHL Seattle Is Thinking Big With NBA-Ready Arena And Event-Hosting Aspirations

2019 NHL Draft - Seattle Press Conference

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 21: NHL Seattle's Jerry Bruckheimer, Principal Owner (left) and Tod Leiweke, President & CEO (right) answer questions during the press conference in advance of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver,

NHLI via Getty Images

When co-majority owner Jerry Bruckheimer and NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke met with a horde of reporters at the NHL Draft in Vancouver last Friday, the pair acknowledged that their group would love to host the same event in Seattle in 2021, as their new arena opens and their new hockey team selects its first group of prospects.

“We're here to learn, but we're also here to check out this event,” said Leiweke. “We know they're about to do a fantastic job. We hope to have that very same opportunity in a couple of years.  

“We've talked to the league and we're very good at never getting in front of the league. We didn't assume that we'd get that 32nd franchise and we're not going to make any assumptions about the draft, but we've clearly indicated that it's something we think would be a fabulous way to start a franchise.”

Leiweke also mentioned that his group would also be interested in eventually hosting or co-hosting hockey's World Junior Championship as part of its efforts to grow the game at a grassroots level in its expansive Pacific Northwest territory.

NHL Seattle’s original application for expansion carried a target to start play in 2020, but that was bumped back by one year when the franchise was approved last December. Good thing, because like most renovations, the team’s ambitious redevelopment of the Seattle Center Arena has turned out to need more time and money than originally projected.

“Our budget is certainly more than we initially thought,” Leiweke admitted. “I would say the enormous positive for us is that ownership has not blinked, and they've not cut one corner. It's fantastic to work for an ownership so committed to quality, because this building — I'm not sure that the building would be what it could have been if the owners hadn't ultimately said 'keep going.'” 

The project has been characterized as a renovation, but the final building will be brand new, with the exception of the old arena’s historic roof. It’s being built for hockey but will also host music and entertainment events and eventually, the partners hope, an NBA team.

“We're going to do a ton of music shows,” said Leiweke. “Acoustically, we're spending lots of money to make sure that this building is concert-hall perfect. Music is something we're very bullish on.

“The same principles that make it brilliant for hockey will make it brilliant for music and will make it brilliant for the NBA. We will have a huge welcome mat out for the NBA when they're ready but again, we're never going to get in front of the league.

“They're well aware of what we're doing and we're ensuring that it's not only compliant with NBA standards but well above those standards.”

According to Leiweke, the demolition of the old building framework has just been completed. The next step is to dig down 15 feet in order to accommodate the new, intimate arena bowl.

Bruckheimer, 75, is best-known for producing a long string of Hollywood blockbusters over nearly 40 years. When he’s home in Los Angeles, he still plays in a weekly pickup game every Sunday at 6:15 p.m. alongside Hollywood agents, actors and, during the NHL offseason, even current stars like P.K. Subban.

A longtime Los Angeles Kings season ticket holder whose attempt to head up an ownership group to bring the sport to Las Vegas was thwarted by the 2008 financial crisis, Bruckheimer says his passion for hockey was born when his father took him to a Detroit Red Wings playoff game back at the old Olympia in the mid-50s.

“I was sitting up in the rafters and it was one of those double or triple-overtime games that the Red Wings won,” he said. “They beat the Canadiens and they won the Cup. It just got in my blood and I carried it with me the rest of my life.”

“Jerry's memories of hockey and many of our memories were of the old-time arenas that had this sense of intimacy and the players connected to the fans,” added Leiweke. “We think ultimately, that's what our arena's going to be.” 

“I think the fact that it's a very tight bowl, it’s going to be loud, and it's going to have just fantastic soundscapes and a phenomenal hockey presentation that we're gonna put on,” continued Bruckheimer. “It's show business. Any way you want to look at it, we're entertainers — that's what we do. We entertain an audience, a worldwide audience. This is a sport that translates all over the world. You get players from everywhere.”

NHL Seattle had a staff of “four and a half” people when the franchise was officially approved last December, laughed Leiweke. That number has now grown to 40, and is expected to eventually reach 200 across arena operations at Seattle Center, plus business and hockey operations housed at the new training facility north of town, which is also currently under construction.

With two years to go before they can make their first player acquisitions, Leiweke says they’re ready to hire a general manager if they find the right fit.

“We're prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things,” he said. “Part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks, getting their take. It's really a lot of fun.”

A couple of prime potential candidates are off the board now that Ken Holland has been hired by the Edmonton Oilers and Kelly McCrimmon has been promoted to general manager of the Vegas Golden Knights. One name that came up during draft weekend is former NHL goaltender Sean Burke, who has recently been working as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens and in managerial roles with Hockey Canada.

Leiweke and Bruckheimer added another voice to their GM search group in Vancouver last Saturday, when they brought on analytics expert Alexandra Mandrycky as their Director of Hockey Administration.

According to a report, the 28-year-old, who has spent the last three and a half seasons working with the Minnesota Wild, has been a part-time resident of Seattle for the past few years. One of the pioneers in the hockey analytics community through her early work on the War-on-Ice.com website, Mandrycky will now play an integral role in helping to select a general manager whose vision will align with her own player evaluation perspective.

As far as the team’s name and logo goes, Leiweke said that announcement will come in due time.

“We're deliberate about it, but there's not a sense of urgency — we want to get it right. It's a complicated world. There's lots of trademark restrictions out there and names already taken.

“Part of it is — the longer we're going as an enterprise, the more we know what we stand for and the more we know what we don't stand for, and it's really helping inform.

“I think, as anxious as people are to have us wear a name on our chest, taking our time is going to serve us well.”

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When co-majority owner Jerry Bruckheimer and NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke met with a horde of reporters at the NHL Draft in Vancouver last Friday, the pair acknowledged that their group would love to host the same event in Seattle in 2021, as their new arena opens and their new hockey team selects its first group of prospects.

“We're here to learn, but we're also here to check out this event,” said Leiweke. “We know they're about to do a fantastic job. We hope to have that very same opportunity in a couple of years.  

“We've talked to the league and we're very good at never getting in front of the league. We didn't assume that we'd get that 32nd franchise and we're not going to make any assumptions about the draft, but we've clearly indicated that it's something we think would be a fabulous way to start a franchise.”

Leiweke also mentioned that his group would also be interested in eventually hosting or co-hosting hockey's World Junior Championship as part of its efforts to grow the game at a grassroots level in its expansive Pacific Northwest territory.

NHL Seattle’s original application for expansion carried a target to start play in 2020, but that was bumped back by one year when the franchise was approved last December. Good thing, because like most renovations, the team’s ambitious redevelopment of the Seattle Center Arena has turned out to need more time and money than originally projected.

“Our budget is certainly more than we initially thought,” Leiweke admitted. “I would say the enormous positive for us is that ownership has not blinked, and they've not cut one corner. It's fantastic to work for an ownership so committed to quality, because this building — I'm not sure that the building would be what it could have been if the owners hadn't ultimately said 'keep going.'” 

The project has been characterized as a renovation, but the final building will be brand new, with the exception of the old arena’s historic roof. It’s being built for hockey but will also host music and entertainment events and eventually, the partners hope, an NBA team.

“We're going to do a ton of music shows,” said Leiweke. “Acoustically, we're spending lots of money to make sure that this building is concert-hall perfect. Music is something we're very bullish on.

“The same principles that make it brilliant for hockey will make it brilliant for music and will make it brilliant for the NBA. We will have a huge welcome mat out for the NBA when they're ready but again, we're never going to get in front of the league.

“They're well aware of what we're doing and we're ensuring that it's not only compliant with NBA standards but well above those standards.”

According to Leiweke, the demolition of the old building framework has just been completed. The next step is to dig down 15 feet in order to accommodate the new, intimate arena bowl.

Bruckheimer, 75, is best-known for producing a long string of Hollywood blockbusters over nearly 40 years. When he’s home in Los Angeles, he still plays in a weekly pickup game every Sunday at 6:15 p.m. alongside Hollywood agents, actors and, during the NHL offseason, even current stars like P.K. Subban.

A longtime Los Angeles Kings season ticket holder whose attempt to head up an ownership group to bring the sport to Las Vegas was thwarted by the 2008 financial crisis, Bruckheimer says his passion for hockey was born when his father took him to a Detroit Red Wings playoff game back at the old Olympia in the mid-50s.

“I was sitting up in the rafters and it was one of those double or triple-overtime games that the Red Wings won,” he said. “They beat the Canadiens and they won the Cup. It just got in my blood and I carried it with me the rest of my life.”

“Jerry's memories of hockey and many of our memories were of the old-time arenas that had this sense of intimacy and the players connected to the fans,” added Leiweke. “We think ultimately, that's what our arena's going to be.” 

“I think the fact that it's a very tight bowl, it’s going to be loud, and it's going to have just fantastic soundscapes and a phenomenal hockey presentation that we're gonna put on,” continued Bruckheimer. “It's show business. Any way you want to look at it, we're entertainers — that's what we do. We entertain an audience, a worldwide audience. This is a sport that translates all over the world. You get players from everywhere.”

NHL Seattle had a staff of “four and a half” people when the franchise was officially approved last December, laughed Leiweke. That number has now grown to 40, and is expected to eventually reach 200 across arena operations at Seattle Center, plus business and hockey operations housed at the new training facility north of town, which is also currently under construction.

With two years to go before they can make their first player acquisitions, Leiweke says they’re ready to hire a general manager if they find the right fit.

“We're prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things,” he said. “Part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks, getting their take. It's really a lot of fun.”

A couple of prime potential candidates are off the board now that Ken Holland has been hired by the Edmonton Oilers and Kelly McCrimmon has been promoted to general manager of the Vegas Golden Knights. One name that came up during draft weekend is former NHL goaltender Sean Burke, who has recently been working as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens and in managerial roles with Hockey Canada.

Leiweke and Bruckheimer added another voice to their GM search group in Vancouver last Saturday, when they brought on analytics expert Alexandra Mandrycky as their Director of Hockey Administration.

According to a report, the 28-year-old, who has spent the last three and a half seasons working with the Minnesota Wild, has been a part-time resident of Seattle for the past few years. One of the pioneers in the hockey analytics community through her early work on the War-on-Ice.com website, Mandrycky will now play an integral role in helping to select a general manager whose vision will align with her own player evaluation perspective.

As far as the team’s name and logo goes, Leiweke said that announcement will come in due time.

“We're deliberate about it, but there's not a sense of urgency — we want to get it right. It's a complicated world. There's lots of trademark restrictions out there and names already taken.

“Part of it is — the longer we're going as an enterprise, the more we know what we stand for and the more we know what we don't stand for, and it's really helping inform.

“I think, as anxious as people are to have us wear a name on our chest, taking our time is going to serve us well.”

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I'm based in Vancouver and have written about hockey for The Canadian Press, The Hockey News, NHL.com and more. I have been following the business of sports since I wrot...