New arena proposal may re-introduce a hockey rival to Seattle
Photo from http://seattletotems.org.

When I talk about the Vancouver Canucks and rivalries, different team names will emerge. Younger fans will talk about the Chicago Blackhawks and their recent playoff clashes with the Canucks, while some fans caught up in the exuberance of last year’s Stanley Cup Final and the heated regular season re-match will talk about the Boston Bruins.

Fans with slightly longer memories will point to the Calgary Flames, and for good reason. There is the geographical proximity to consider, but more importantly, the Canucks and Flames have met up in the playoffs a half-dozen times, including three straight seasons in the early 80′s. Their first-round match-ups in 1989, 1994, and 2004 were particularly important, as the winner in those 7-game series went on to the Stanley Cup Final each time.

But here’s a name that you might not have considered: the Seattle Totems. One of the Canucks earliest rivals may be on their way to being revived in the Emerald City.

Thursday afternoon, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn held a press conference announcing the details of a proposal to build a brand new, state-of-the-art sport arena in the SoDo area of Seattle. The arena is being largely funded by private investor Christopher Hansen, a San Francisco hedge fund manager who grew up as a massive SuperSonics fan in Seattle.

Hansen appears to be passionate about bringing the NBA back to Seattle and is pledging $290 million towards the building of the arena on land that he already owns. The deal is particularly sweet for the city as it involves no new taxes, will be entirely self-funded through revenue created by the arena itself, and has a series of conditions that need to be met in order for any public money to be used.

This is where hockey fans can get excited: one of those requirements is that both an NBA and an NHL franchise need to be brought into Seattle to play in the arena for public funds to be committed to the project.

While Hansen won’t be buying an NHL franchise, other groups have been identified that want to bring the NHL to Seattle and Hansen will now be motivated to work with these groups to make this happen. The biggest obstacle in the way of the NHL coming to Seattle has been the lack of a suitable arena, as KeyArena has only 10-12,000 unobstructed seats for hockey. With this new arena deal coming together, Seattle has to be considered a frontrunner for NHL relocation.

Seattle has tried to get an NHL franchise twice previously, as outlined in my post yesterday at Backhand Shelf, but this may be their best chance to actually succeed. There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but one of the biggest has been removed. This is great news for the Vancouver Canucks.

Like many teams in the Western Conference, the Canucks don’t have any other NHL teams in close proximity. The closest is Calgary, but it’s not exactly a short drive. A team in Seattle, however, would just be a few hours away, close enough to leave work early, drive down, enjoy a game, and drive back up late at night. Tickets in Seattle would potentially (aka. almost certainly) be cheaper than at Rogers Arena as well. Once NHL realignment rolls around, Seattle and Vancouver would undoubtedly be in the same division, resulting in even more games between the two franchises.

Seattle and Vancouver have a long hockey history together, dating back to the days of the Vancouver Millionaires and Seattle Metropolitans, Stanley Cup Winners in 1915 and 1917, respectively. They were two of only four teams in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and battled for the PCHA championship six times.

But the Vancouver Canucks had a Seattle rival themselves, during their pre-NHL years in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and Western Hockey League. The Seattle teams went through a series of owners and name changes before settling on the Seattle Totems.

The Seattle Totems in action during the 1973-74 season, complete with killer soundtrack.

The Totems and Canucks were the two longest lasting teams in the WHL and were, at times, the two best teams in the league, as the Totems won 3 championships and the Canucks won 4. They met up 4 times in the WHL playoffs, including once in the finals. By the time the Canucks joined the NHL in 1970, however, the Totems were on a decline. But the Canucks’ association with the Totems didn’t end there.

When the Totems began experiencing financial troubles, the ownership of the Canucks saved them from bankruptcy by purchasing a majority share in the team, with the understanding that the original owners could buy back that share if and when the Totems were able to join the NHL. The Totems became the Canucks’ farm team and were awarded an expansion NHL franchise in 1974.

Unfortunately, the Totems’ ownership were unable to procure the necessary funds to pay the NHL’s expansion fees and buy back the team from the Canucks and the team collapsed.

Professional hockey left Seattle in 1975, but it might be on its way back. If so, it might be the chance for the Canucks to renew a 60-year-old rivalry.

 

The bulk of my information came from the superb website, seattlehockey.net, a great resource for the history of hockey in Seattle.

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16 comments

  1. cathylu
    February 17, 2012

    An NHL team in Seattle would be awesome! I hope it happens.

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  2. John in Marpole
    February 17, 2012

    I’m guessing that I may be one of a handful of PITB readers who is old enough to have seen the Canucks & Totems play in the WHL (in the PNE Forum, to boot), I gotta say that those uniforms look *awesome*, and when Seattle gets its NHL team they’d better bring those beauties back.

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  3. Fan#789
    February 17, 2012

    Salo-is-you-pal-o?
    what happened to this?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 17, 2012

      What happened is I’m the worst and keep forgetting and/or putting it off. We’ll make it up to everyone soon.

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      • tom selleck's moustache
        February 17, 2012

        Free T-shirts for everyone!

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  4. Birrell
    February 17, 2012

    As a life-long Seattle resident and a Canucks fan, I am so excited about this possibility and really hope this comes together. We’re hearing it is still very very early in the process from our city and county officials.

    Naming ideas have been bantered about on sports talk radio and the Totems have been mentioned, along with the Thunderbirds. The name i like best so far however is the “Seattle Chinooks”.

    The real question is who do I root for if/when these two teams play each other!

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  5. Phileo99
    February 17, 2012

    As much as I like the spunk of your rose coloured half full glass, I think there are many issues that have not been considered nor addressed by this article:

    - First of all, this article expounds at great length about how a Seattle NHL franchise would be great for Vancouver. I’m amused at all the talk of Canuck fans taking over the seattle arena when the canucks play Seattle, but what about the other 30 odd games in Seattle? The best interests of their residents need to be considered from their perspective too; after all, the franchise will be located in Seattle, not the Pacific Coliseum. And, believe it or not, Seattle has to worry about filling the building night after night, year after year when the Canucks are not in town.

    - Seattle already has the Sounders MLS, Mariners MLB, SeaHawks NFL. Do they really have what it takes to support 2 more major league sports franchises? It’s not just about population and demographics, just ask LA. Owners can change their mind too. Do they have 20000 rabid fans who will fill the building for 41 games of a full NHL season? Do they have an ownership group who is committed to the long term viability of the franchise? For the next 5 seasons after that?

    - I remember the honeymoon period that Vancouver fans had for the Grizzlies. What happens if the Seattle NHL team goes on a losing streak? Will there be 20000 die hard fans to fill the building then? And for the next 5 losing streaks after that? Any ownership group that wants to bring the NHL to Seattle would do well to interview NY Islanders, Dallas, Columbus, or Phoenix to find out why the NHL isn’t working out in those cities

    I fully recognize that I am the unpopular Grinch throwing cold water on this hot topic. But I think we should ground ourselves in reality first before we reach for the stars.

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    • JS Topher
      February 17, 2012

      From my experiences, there are a ton of hockey fans in both Seattle and the surrounding area (you can count Oregon in there as well). Given the lack of Pro hockey anywhere near buy, and the size of the market, I have no doubt that they would succeed. Seattle is neither a poor city, nor a southern city with warm climate and interest only in sports one plays in the outdoors and sunshine.

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  6. Chris
    February 17, 2012

    I wonder if the Canucks have any say in this at all. Do they have any territorial rights in Washington? We all know that Toronto (or southern Ontario in general) could probably support another NHL team but the Leafs are a major obstacle to it. Does anything similar exist in the Pacific Northwest?

    I also happen to agree with Phileo99 to some extent. The NHL is a fringe sport in most American cities where it has not existed for a long time. Just consider in which cities the relevance of the NHL is palpable outside out of the fans in the stadium: Boston, New York (more so the Rangers, though I don’t blame Islanders fans on that), Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo, the two Pennsylvania teams and to some extent St Louis and San Jose. All those teams have existed for generations, save for Minnesota (though they obviously replaced the North Stars and are in a hockey hotbed), and San Jose, who have found a good niche market in Northern Cal. Why would Seattle, which has gone a generation without professional hockey, fit in with that group, and not with Dallas, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim, all of whom have won the Stanley Cup in recent history and still can’t fill their stadiums or matter to anyone more than a couple of blocks away?

    Columbus is only a 3 hour drive from Detroit. But the Red Wings fans don’t show up for Blue Jackets tuesday nighters against Nashville. Why would it be much different for Seattle when Vancouver isn’t in town?

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    • Birrell
      February 17, 2012

      Both you and Phileo bring up valid points. Don’t forget however, that there are several semi-successful minor league teams also within 3 hours of Seattle – Everett, Portland, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, not to mention the Seattle (Kent) Thunderbirds. These teams have hockey fans that would love to be able to go in person to an NHL game. Sure, Vancouver is just as short a drive, but it isn’t economically feasible for many Seattle-area based fans to attend regularly. I’ve been a Vancouver fan for 10+ years and only made it up to one game so far (a Sunday night game vs Florida) just due to the expense involved.

      As for attendance for an NHL team in Seattle and any other Seattle sports, it’s been proven time and time again that fans will support winning teams. Get a team here and get the right people in place and there is no reason it can’t work here.

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  7. Amanda
    February 17, 2012

    I would love to see an NHL team in Seattle, but I’m not getting my hopes up yet. I’ve been a Canucks fan ever since I got into hockey in college, but I was barely aware of the existence of hockey as a kid growing up near Seattle. Hockey is definitely not popular in Seattle, but it could really catch on if people were more aware of it and could see games in person.

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  8. Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
    February 17, 2012

    I’d love to see the Coyotes move to Seattle – and get a more offensive-minded coach. I think it would be great for hockey in the Pacific Northwest.

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  9. Chris
    February 17, 2012

    I think another key point in all of this is the question about corporate support. It’s an unfortunate reality of the pro sports world that a team can’t just have supportive fans, but also needs to attract money from businesses, ie: to buy season tickets and suites, advertising space and naming rights, etc. Sure there are a number of large corporations calling Seattle home (eg: Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks…), but an NHL team would also have to compete for those dollars with the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and a prospective NBA team, all of which play sports with a stronger foothold in the Seattle market. If anything does work in Seattle’s favour, I think it’s how successful the expansion Sounders have been at drawing support. However, one still wonders if an NHL team would end up a victim of oversaturation. Sure there are some hockey fans in Seattle. But there were also some hockey fans in Atlanta.

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  10. eilonwy
    February 17, 2012

    This would be great for Seattle and Vancouver… but it’s yet more terrible news for Phoenix. I’m desperate to keep my Coyotes in the desert where they belong (so I can keep seeing hockey, even if it does mean that I cheer *against* them when the Canucks are in town… I’m not a fickle fan, I just have priorities.)

    On the bright side (for me), the Coyotes situation needs to be fixed this year, and neither an arena in Seattle nor Quebec City will be ready in time for next season.

    I’m probably naive (see above re: wanting the Coyotes to stay as proof if you like…) but I have to wonder if Seattle’s sudden new arena might be a piece of quiet groundwork for the expansion that seems logical (if not exactly desirable or even necessarily workable) if/when the realignment goes forward and 32 teams are more even divisible into 4 divisions…?

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  11. allan graves
    February 17, 2012

    Guyld Fielder vs Phil Maloney at the PNE Forum. I used to ride the # 14 from Dunbar and pay 75 cents for a student ticket to sit in what they called the promenade seats right on the boards with no glass in front of you. i think there was a rider on the ticket about getting hit with the puck.
    Great fun. I remember also Buddy Boone scoring a lot of goals a couple of years. Great atmosphere in the old Forum when the Totems came to town.

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  12. iLovePITB
    February 19, 2012

    I would LOOOOVE an NHL team in Seattle, I always go down there shop, now maybe I can catch a game too! But the terrible thing is that it will be the Coyotes. Those games are always snoozefests,

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