Seattle has an impossible NHL expansion act to follow

Seattle has an impossible NHL expansion act to follow

For all the griping we do about the NHL, they certainly have a handle on how to do expansion. But as opposed to the Vegas Golden Knights’ fairytale inaugural season, the still-nameless Seattle franchise is going to have to change their expectations a little bit for their inaugural season of 2021-22.

What happened in Vegas last year is going to stay in Vegas — last year. The confluence of events that led to their run to the Stanley Cup final are not easily repeatable, if repeatable ever again. General manager George McPhee was rightly lauded and won the GM of the Year for his tireless work finding undervalued players to poach off each roster. That, or he fleeced his counterparts whose rosters were too exposed, like the first- and second-round picks obtained from the Islanders — along with a salary-dump of Mikhail Grabovski’s contract and unheralded prospect Jake Bischoff — in order to draft another dud, goalie J-F Berube.

Either way, the job McPhee did was legendarily good. He got career years out of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith up front, while defenseman Nate Schmidt went from just a good depth defenseman to a big-time leader.

That Vegas team was also galvanized by the horrific concert shooting in their town just before the regular season started. The franchise did a terrific job commemorating the 58 people who died, and that brought them and the city together. They also called themselves the Golden Misfits — the players being discarded by their previous teams — which brought them closer as a group. Bringing them even closer was all the winning they were doing. With a pregame show unrivaled in the league and perfectly fitting in pomp and circumstance, they were an expansion success story unlike anything ever seen in sports.

So, Seattle, good luck replicating that.

But Seattle should already be applauded for their commitment to this venture. The money promised is staggering, coming from the ownership group led by businessman David Bonderman, joined by Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke. They ponied up the $650 million fee to join the league — up from the $500 million Vegas put up — plus they’re renovating downtown KeyArena for $800 million — up from the original projection of $600 million — and they’re adding a casual $75 million practice facility.

“This is not for the faint of heart,” Leiweke said. “This a major investment. There are no public dollars in this. It defies some of the rules and rhythms of this industry.”

Totally correct that this is not a standard investment, yet the parameters are there for the franchise to succeed. The city is the 18th-largest in the United States, so that should bring a nice local TV deal. They haven’t had a winter sports team since the NBA’s SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008, but they do have a history of hockey. The Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association were the first U.S. team to ever win the Stanley Cup, beating the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association in 1917, just months before the NHL was founded. There is a plaque outside of an office building downtown to commemorate it.

The announcement was made after the club was approved by the Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday in Sea Island, Georgia. The 13 suggestions for names are interesting — and there are odds in Vegas for which one they choose — but my vote goes with Sockeyes.

As for the to-be-named general manager, there is a high bar set by McPhee that is unreachable. Same can be said for the overall entertainment production by the franchise. The expansion draft rules are the same, and this organization is set up for eventual success. But to think they’re going to replicate Vegas’ golden ride would be foolhardy.

Nagging Nylander

So at the tenth hour, just moments before the deadline on Saturday, William Nylander signed his six-year, $41.77 million deal with the Maple Leafs. For the 22-year-old winger, that’s a prorated salary-cap hit of $10.2 million this season, followed by a hit of $6.9 million for years two-through-six.

It seems like a little less than what Nylander was asking for, but it does seem equitable for both sides. The bigger issue for the league as a whole is that restricted free agents who haven’t earned arbitration rights will see this and think they can do the same. Having some of the most exciting young talents in the league sit out until Dec. 1 is a bad precedent. The idea that all RFA’s should have arbitration rights is likely going to come up in the next CBA negotiation, and right now that is looking like it would actually benefit the teams.

Wilson whacked

Really would like to stop writing about Tom Wilson and headshots, but this one is different. This time, some of the more vengeful factions of fans might say that Wilson got his comeuppance when Ryan Reaves nailed him with a blindside hit on Tuesday night. Wilson lost his helmet and then hit his head on the ice, suffering a concussion.

“I thought he was just looking at his pass, and ran into a lion in the jungle,” Reaves told The Athletic after the game.

Since coming back from his 16-game suspension (lessened from 20) for his brutal preseason hit on Oskar Sundqvist, Wilson had eight goals and 14 points in 11 games.

Stay tuned . . .

. . . to the Sabres (again). This segment of The Backcheck might just stay dedicated to the Sabres, because I can’t stop watching them. First, they’re just fun to watch — talented, fast, hard-working. But it will not all be rainbows, and this stretch of 0-2-2 that they bring into Saturday afternoon’s match in Philadelphia is a trying time (despite the two regulation losses being to the league’s elite — Lightning and Predators — and the overtime losses coming as the second legs of back-to-backs both times).

Also, Buffalo is a great sports town, and a great hockey town. Without rooting in the press box, I think they’re a great story. This year’s Vegas? (Not quite.)

Parting shot

What an addition Max Domi is to the personality of the league. Here is Tie’s son taunting Zach Smith in a way that you know gets under someone’s skin. Him and Brendan Gallagher on the same team is something else.

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