While the selections of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kaako and the P.K. Subban trade all got their deserved attention during the NHL draft, one of the biggest crowds of the weekend surrounded a 59-year-old team executive and a Hollywood filmmaker.
More than six months after the NHL announced its 32nd franchise, what’s happening in Seattle remains a curiosity in the hockey community. With the draft in Vancouver, and Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke and part-owner Jerry Bruckheimer hanging out for the weekend, it amplified the questions about what is to come next for the yet-to-be-named franchise a couple hours to the south.
Seattle is still two years away from an expansion draft, its first league-wide draft and eventually dropping the puck on its inaugural season. Yet the healthy interest in what is happening there was a big part of the draft weekend.
What’s going to be the team name? What will the colors be? Is the arena timeline still on track so the building could host the 2021 draft as the Seattle group desires?
Maybe most important to the hockey operations side of the 31 other teams — who is going to be the general manager and when will that person be hired?
“I will say this, the rest of the league is so excited about Seattle,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to bring the Pacific Northwest into the league. It’s a big territory. We’ve got Oregon, Washington, Alaska so I think the teams are really excited. They’re really friendly right now, I’m not so sure they’re going to be that way forever. For the time being they’re fantastic.”
Yes, teams are being helpful and welcoming of the Seattle franchise, in part due to the respect they have for Leiweke. His success in previous NHL stops when Minnesota was getting started and in revitalizing Tampa Bay has given him clout among the rest of the league. The other league executives know Leiweke will demand Seattle be an elite franchise from the start.
“He’s done this a lot,” said Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, who worked with Leiweke in Tampa Bay and was at one time thought to be a GM candidate in Seattle. “He knows how to run a team, he knows how to build a building. He knows how to create an environment, the in-game presentation, everything about running the business side of a pro sports team he’s done it. His personality and energy and people skills, he gets it done.”
But franchises also are starting to take account of what their own rosters will look like two years from now when Seattle starts to pillage other teams under the same rules that helped make Vegas so successful in its first season.
GMs are smarter now and creative ways to potentially protect players are popping up. For example, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed center Kevin Hayes to a $50 million, seven-year deal, they included a full no-movement clause in the first three seasons to protect him from Seattle expansion. Hayes has a 12-team no-trade list in the final four years of the contract.
“It’s still early. Your roster is going to be different in two years and you have an outlook, but you know it’s coming,” Colorado GM Joe Sakic said. “We didn’t worry about it last time (with Vegas), but we were the worst team in the league last time. If you have to worry you have two or three guys they might select, chances are you have a pretty good team.”
Whether Seattle can have the same expansion draft success as Vegas will largely depend on its GM and staff. While Seattle’s management was in Vancouver to learn some of the logistics of potentially hosting the draft in the future, the status of its GM opening remained a priority.
Seattle did make one addition, hiring Alexandra Mandrycky as the team’s director of hockey administration. Mandrycky was previously a hockey operations analyst for Minnesota.
“I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the faith Tod and the team have shown in me and their desire to use analytics to help build an outstanding team,” Mandrycky said.
Leiweke said there could be a GM hire this summer. Whenever it happens, it’ll be the first of many dominos over the next several months that’ll eventually include a nickname and colors.
“We’re prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things, we’re prepared to do that,” Leiweke said. “Part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks to get their take. It’s really a lot of fun.”
Nashville GM David Poile went through the expansion process with the Predators in 1998 and said while there was pressure with creating a new franchise, it also was freeing to try out new things and build a team from its infancy.
Whoever ends up being the GM in Seattle will have a similar experience.
“It’s one of those things where you get your handprints, fingerprints over everything that is being done in the franchise from hiring your scouting staff to coaches, to working on your rink, your dressing room, all those things,” Poile said. “I thought it was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had.”
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