<
>
Insider

Seattle's path to an NHL franchise

2/17/2012

If there were any doubts that Seattle has moved to the front of the line for the destination of a relocated NHL team or even for future expansion, they were erased Wednesday when Seattle announced Christopher Hansen's proposal to build a new arena in Seattle's stadium district.

The league has liked Seattle as a possible NHL city but it was lacking two key components -- an arena and an owner.

"It's fair to say professional hockey in the Pacific Northwest is a popular sport, it's been accepted," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in December when I asked him about Seattle as a relocation possibility. "It has a rich and long tradition."

Now it's also one step closer to breaking ground on an NHL-ready arena.

The Globe and Mail shed some light on the second part of the equation when it identified Don Levin, owner of the AHL's Chicago Wolves, as a possible owner of an NHL franchise in Seattle. Levin told the paper that he would be "very happy" to be involved with Hansen's bid to have an NHL team play in Seattle.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff knows Levin well. Before joining the Chicago Blackhawks as an assistant GM, Cheveldayoff ran the Wolves for 12 years, guiding the franchise to four championships.

"He's a real passionate hockey person. He loves the game. He has the purest of intentions of the game from an ownership perspective," Cheveldayoff said when we chatted Thursday. "He treats the people in his organization like a family. When you build an organization from the ground up, that's what it's all about."

During his time with the Wolves, Cheveldayoff remembers a point when he felt the facilities needed to be upgraded. In order to develop players headed to the NHL, they needed a better weight room and practice facility.

Levin never hesitated.

"He basically said 'Go do it'; that's kind of how he was," Cheveldayoff said. "He helped build a twin-sheet facility in the Chicago suburbs ... a first-class minor hockey rink that also helped seed Chicago hockey at the grass-roots level. He's a hockey purist and just loves the game."

And now, on to the Friday mailbag:

With Thursday's announcement in Seattle of a proposed NBA/NHL arena deal, would this make Seattle the NHL's top choice for relocation over Quebec City if the deal gets approved and they started breaking ground soon? --Brian, Eugene, Ore.

Yes. Absolutely. This progress doesn't bode well for Phoenix Coyotes fans. The biggest difference between Phoenix this year and Atlanta last year is that there wasn't a turnkey city ready to have an NHL team move there. Seattle is moving closer to making that happen, although the league continues to hold out hope that a solution remains possible in Phoenix. Time is certainly running out.

My question is probably the same as a lot of people's questions. Where do you see Rick Nash going, and do the Los Angeles Kings have the best shot at him? --Tyler Morrison, La Verne, Calif.

Why don't the Toronto Maple Leafs try to get Nash? They need size, right? --Garnet Baxter, Blandford, Nova Scotia

I think Nash is less of a need for the Leafs than he is for the Kings. In fact, I think he's the ideal addition for the Kings more than any other team. Although one NHL source I spoke with had concerns over the Kings' team speed, and getting Nash doesn't necessarily help with that. "When they get waxed, which I've seen them do, it's usually against a fast team," the source said.

But I would put the Kings and the New York Rangers as the favorites if the Columbus Blue Jackets deal Nash before the deadline. I've been very lukewarm to the idea of the Rangers' trading for Nash because I wouldn't mess with the chemistry of that team, but I'm being talked into it. I shared my Rangers concern with someone in the game I really respect, and he explained why the Rangers would do it. "To win a Stanley Cup," he said. "They have some pretty good pieces who aren't playing. If you think they can add Rick Nash and not give away the present, then all of a sudden you throw him in the lineup and you already have the No. 1 goaltender in the game."

The key would be to do the deal without including a player like Michael Del Zotto. Including him would be a deal-breaker for me. As for Toronto, I'm not sure a player like Nash is their biggest need. If you're Brian Burke, you might be better off waiting until this summer for your big move, just in case Ryan Getzlaf becomes available.

What do you think next season holds for the New York Islanders? They have a ton of cap space (I'm pretty sure that they are actually going to be below the floor) but with the unresolved stadium situation, it will be tough to sign any big-name free agents. Who do you think would be the best fit or most likely signing? --Joe, Albany, N.Y.

Next season is shaping up to be an interesting one for the Islanders. For one, they absolutely have to make the playoffs or else the direction of the current regime has to be questioned. As you said, they have a lot of money currently coming off the books, including Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo, P.A. Parenteau, Mark Eaton, Steve Staios, Milan Jurcina, Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. It's also possible that we'll see an amnesty deal come out of the new CBA, which means the potential erasing of the Rick DiPietro contract off the Islanders' books.

So there are two crucial decisions ahead for Garth Snow. One, who will be the starting goalie? In a crucial season, are you prepared to go with a relatively inexperienced combo of Montoya and Kevin Poulin? Do you spend some of that free agent money on Nabokov, who might be one of the few notable veterans willing to sign with the Islanders?

The other decision will be free agency. Snow hasn't been able to lure big free agents to the Island, despite more than fair-market offers. The solution may be to take the Rolston plan to a higher level. Many believe that we'll see the salary cap shrink next season after the CBA is settled, which means a few cap teams might have to move one of their big contracts. That's an opportunity for the Islanders to add an impact player through trade who might otherwise not go to New York. And it probably wouldn't cost too much in return.

Look at how successful the Florida Panthers were in making a similar move, acquiring Brian Campbell from the Blackhawks. Yes, that's a huge contract, but Florida isn't in the playoff chase without him. Snow needs to look at a similar solution, preferably with a defenseman.