On Tuesday, the NHL’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to grant Seattle an expansion franchise for the 2021-22 season. That will bring the league’s teams up to an even 32.
The league plans to balance out the Eastern and Western Conferences by moving the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. That’s a tough blow for the Coyotes that will likely mean a tougher travel schedule and moves them out-of-division from their closest rival, the Vegas Golden Knights.
That's what the Seattle expansion means for the Coyotes, but what does it mean for the Canucks? Let’s take a look with a feature I like to call Pros and Cons.
Pro: The Canucks will gain a geographical rival
The closest team to the Canucks over the years has been the Calgary Flames, who were a fierce rival in the 90’s but that has somewhat subsided since then. The Flames have a much closer geographical rival in the Edmonton Oilers, with whom they have the Battle of Alberta.
The addition of team just a few hours drive south of Vancouver could mean the type of rivalry that lasts for decades.
“I think it’s great,” said Jim Benning on Monday in anticipation of the announcement. “It’s gonna be our closest city to us in proximity and I think it’s going to be a fierce rivalry through the years. It’s close enough for our fans to drive down and see games there and for their fans to drive up.”
Con: A team in Seattle could actually steal fans away from the Canucks
Maybe this isn’t a huge concern — I’m honestly not entirely sure how many Canucks fans live in the Seattle area — but the addition of a hometown team could leach any cross-border fans away from cheering for the Canucks. Or, alternatively, it could leave them in the awkward situation of cheering for two different teams. Ugh.
Pro: It might be cheaper to watch a game in Seattle
Let’s be honest: Canucks tickets are not cheap, unless you somehow manage to find an amazing deal on the secondary market. In general, tickets in American markets tend to be cheaper than those in Canadian markets. If you want to catch an NHL game, it might actually make fiscal sense to make the drive to Seattle.
Con: It probably won’t be cheaper to watch a game in Seattle
There’s a natural assumption that tickets will be cheaper for an expansion franchise, but that’s not necessarily the case. Tickets to Vegas Golden Knights games were actually more expensive, on average, than Canucks tickets last season. The average Golden Knights ticket cost $145, compared to $140 for the Canucks.
Will tickets to Seattle games be that expensive? Not necessarily, but they did have a massive response to their season ticket drive and Seattle is a huge sports market. The Seattle metropolitan area has a population of around 3.8 million, while Greater Vancouver is closer to 2.4 million. They have the numbers to support the team, particularly if they show some early signs of success.
You can also bet that tickets when the Canucks visit Seattle will have jacked up prices on the secondary market, if not higher prices on the primary market as well.
Pro: Seattle has a long hockey history
Seattle and Vancouver share a hockey history, dating back to the early 20th century when both cities played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The Seattle Metropolitans and Vancouver Millionaires (and Maroons) battled for nearly a decade, with both teams winning the Stanley Cup.
The PCHA holds a special place in hockey history, as the league introduced rule changes that are still a part of the game today, like forward passing, blue lines, penalty shots, and even playoffs. Heck, they removed a rule that forced goaltenders to stay on their feet, so we have the PCHA to thank for eventually giving us the gloriousness of Dominik Hasek.
Con: Seattle has won the Stanley Cup more recently than Vancouver
The Millionaires won the Cup in 1915. The Metropolitans won in 1917. I’m sure they won’t ever bring that up, though.
Pro: The growth of the NHL into a major television market
Seattle-Tacoma is the 13th-largest television market in the US: adding an NHL team in Seattle should expand revenues accordingly. That should help the NHL stay on firm footing and hopefully play a factor in preventing any labour stoppages in the future. I’m being far too optimistic about that, aren’t I.
Con: The Canucks will lose another player in the expansion draft
The rules for Seattle’s expansion draft will be the same as Vegas’s, which means they should be able, with some management savvy, to put together a decent team immediately. The expansion draft will take place in 2021 prior to their inaugural season.
That means the Canucks will lose a player from their roster just as their rebuild should be paying off with a playoff, if not Stanley Cup, contender. Losing a key player to a divisional rival would be quite the kick in the teeth if the Canucks are in the position they hope they’ll be in 2021.
Pro: If the Canucks lose someone good in the expansion draft, that’s a good sign
The expansion draft rules still allow every NHL team to protect up to 11 players — 7 forwards, 3 defencemen, and 1 goaltender. That means that any player selected in the expansion draft should be, at maximum, your 12th-best player. If your 12-best player is a good player, then you’re doing all right.
The 2021 expansion draft might be painful for Canucks fans, but if it is, that’s not the worst thing in the world.