Update 1/24/2020: Geoff Baker, Seattle Times staff reporter, has since released an article in which NHL Seattle / OVG dismisses the rumors concerning naming rights. With that said, this group has been air tight in terms of leaks and this could very well be damage control. Sports Business Journal reported earlier today that Amazon is the leading contender for naming rights to the new arena at Seattle Center. The local e-commerce and cloud computing giant is said to be one of three companies in active discussions with the Oak View Group and NHL Seattle – an ownership group that features Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy. The expected asking price is reportedly in the vicinity of $14 million per year, and it is unclear who the other two companies are. The SBJ has also stated that all three have reportedly never previously held naming-rights in the sporting world. A deal is projected to be completed by June 1st, at which point the company will join Alaska Airlines, Symetra Life Insurance, and Virginia Mason Health System as team partners. The report follows an announcement today naming the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) as the official union partner of NHL Seattle, the New Arena at Seattle Center, and Northgate Ice Centre. “We are honored that The New Arena and the home of the team is being proudly built by LIUNA members,” said NHL Seattle CEO, Tod Leiweke. “We respect the history of this building, just as we respect the decades of work they have done here.” LIUNA Northwest represents over 47,000 members – roughly 13,000 of whom are within the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers. The union’s logo will be prominently displayed on the ice for all regular-season NHL Seattle games.
Oak View Group and Seattle Hockey Partners have today announced that Alaska Airlines will be the Official Airline and Founding Partner of NHL Seattle, the New Arena at Seattle Center and the team’s Northgate Ice Centre. The New Arena at Seattle Center will feature “The Alaska Airlines Atrium” – a 36,000 sq. ft. addition, located on the south side of the arena, which will serve as the main entrance for all events. The are will feature stories and photos from the region as well as travel opportunities available through the airline. The airlines logo will appear on the center in-ice logo, dasher boards, and during events, both in-game and in the community. “This is a fantastic partnership for NHL Seattle, the New Arena and our fans. Alaska represents Seattle success and innovation and prioritizes service and experience in the same way we do,” said Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle. “To have the hometown airline’s name on our front door, welcoming millions of fans to this beautiful arena, is the perfect fit for us.” “I grew up playing hockey and love the drive and energy of players and fans alike. This is an incredible sport – kids must really want to play, with early ice times and cold temperatures – so anyone who winds up in hockey has to work for it,” said Alaska Airlines President Ben Minicucci. “At Alaska, we get that, and we’re proud to be a founding part of bringing hockey to this great and growing city.” The Seattle based airline has a long history of maintaining its roots in the region and will work closely with NHL Seattle to create a variety of partnerships and initiatives that benefit the Seattle community. “The Alaska Airlines Atrium will be where we will welcome guests from the Pacific Northwest and around the world to enjoy the best in live entertainment and sport,” added Tim Leiweke, CEO of OVG. “Alaska Airlines is the right brand to join us to deliver a fan experience that is second to none.”
The Oak View Groups’ trademark application for the Palm Springs Firebirds has been rejected according to a letter from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The trademark application was initially filed on behalf of OVG by Los Angeles-based legal firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in early August. On November 12th, the firm received a nonfinal office action from the USPTO citing the likelihood of confusion with the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League – regardless of the geographic term preceding the name. “Because each party offers identical services, it is likely that consumers will perceive the applicant’s hockey services [Palm Springs] to be related to registrant’s hockey services [Flint],” states the letter. “As it is common for hockey teams in one league to affiliate themselves with hockey teams in a different league and for the affiliated teams to share the same team name.” Essentially, the two names have the potential to create a false assumption that the organizations are intertwined. While the group has filed additional trademarks, specifically the Dragons, Sun, Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons, they have six months to appeal the decision. I will note that it’s not uncommon for unassociated teams from differing leagues to share the same name. An example being the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League and the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. The AHL’s Palm Springs site has updated its tagline from “We got Fire, Bring on the Ice” to “We got the heat, Bring on the ice.”
Welcome to the awkward stage of NHL expansion. Every team goes through it, ours happens to be a little stretched out. We have a GM in place but no coach. The arena at Seattle Center is in rebuild mode yet the team branding is a great unknown. We sit on the edge of our seat in anticipation but all we receive are little teasers to keep our attention. The reason we aren’t hearing much news is, well – everyone’s busy piecing together an NHL franchise. It’s a fragile process with many steps. In fact, the expansion fee is still outstanding. But don’t panic, the tab will be paid off by May of 2021. So what’s going on behind closed doors? NHL Seattle is perfecting a brand NHL Seattle secured an envelope containing the final five names into a time capsule. One which won’t open until the Space Needles 100th birthday in 2062. Luckily for us, we won’t have to wait that long. “They have a few selections left, and it’s a question of trying to come up with a logo to match the names and see what everybody’s comfortable with,” GM Ron Francis told Sportsnet Canada. “Once they get to that point, then they’ll trademark it and make sure we’re protected.” The team has made it clear that an announcement is likely coming during the first quarter of 2020. With that said, Emily Kaplan of ESPN has reported that we won’t hear one during the NHL All-Star break. If there is one person who has been right all along, it’s her. So what about tickets? A few reports have mentioned the front office is considering dropping the traditional 82-game season ticket packages. I’m told the opposite by a source close to the situation. The team is currently brainstorming ways to get as many fans to games as possible through creative offerings, but traditional packages are here to stay. What they are wire-framing is unclear but I’ll step out on a limb here and say we’ll like what we see. The group has taken a very systemic approach at every step and this is no different. So the back-end is in motion, but what about the team? Six professional scouts are on the payroll and have started to lay the groundwork. Mock drafts – yes, like preparing for the fantasy football season – are underway using in-house software. Again, like fantasy football, it’s less about the available players and more having a strategy in place. More staff is on the way, with amateur scouts coming in the summer to prepare for the 2021 draft. The World Juniors kick off in Prague on December 26th and you better believe NHL Seattle will be in attendance. So what’s next? We wait. But let me tell you, the wait will be worth it.
The next year is going to be extremely busy as we prepare for NHL Seattle’s inaugural season. A branding announcement is expected in the first quarter of 2020, more staff needs to be assembled, and we have the always exciting expansion draft. As we get closer to puck drop, I want to restart a series that I began to write a few years ago. The game of hockey moves fast – and I mean extremely fast. It can be challenging to follow, especially for those new to the sport. A lot is unfolding on the ice simultaneously, so I want to help simplify it a little. For the next few weeks, I am going to break down certain aspects that will help organize the chaos and open you up to the sport I love. I want to begin by discussing one of the most essential parts of the game – space. There is a saying in hockey that “space and time create success.” You can talk about zone entries, possession, shots, and passes, but without space, you have nothing. There are a few techniques used to create space on the ice with the most common being “the cycle” and “the switch.” I’ll break down cycling the puck next week, but for now I want to introduce you to the switch. Using the switch to create confusion among defenders. In the above video, you will see #89 Alex Tuch carry the puck across the blue line toward his three Golden Knights teammates. It may appear counter-intuitive regarding creating space on the ice, but you will notice it does exactly that. By skating toward the two Calgary forwards, Tuch forces what is known as a switch – mainly, calculated chaos among the defenders. He draws the two forwards toward him, creating space for a freed up #81 Jonathan Marchessault along the boards, before dishing the puck. While this is unfolding, #26 Paul Stastny can be seen at the top of your screen, driving toward the net and exposing the back of his blade for a tip. But what he has also done is draw the shorthanded defenders down low and created space for #71 William Karlsson at the top of the right circle. The Calgary penalty-kill maintained their shape (“a box”), but the move from Tuch to start the entry allowed them to get behind the defense. At that point, Calgary became disconnected from the Golden Knights players and got caught watching the puck – allowing for a great cross-ice pass and one-timer from Karlsson. One of the best techniques for creating space on the ice is confusion, and that is precisely what the switch does. It forces two defenders to commit to the puck briefly and opens up space for one of your teammates. Another example of a switch from the same game can be found here when Calgary enters the zone on a four-on-two odd-man rush. Rasmus Andersson, #4 for Calgary, takes a pass from the point and drives to the corner. This forces number #27 Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights to leave his man, #77 Mark Jankowski. Jankowski begins to wrap around the net while facing the puck to create the pass option if needed. Instead of passing the puck, Andersson follows Jankowski around the net and creates confusion for the two Golden Knights defenders. In a perfect world, #81 Jonathan Marchessault for Vegas would have left his man and cut in front of the net to pick up the players wrapping around the other side with Theodore staying on the post to mark his man – initiating the switch. Instead, both players were caught marking the same man for a brief moment, which allowed Andersson to get a clear shot on the net. Both of these examples revolve around creating confusion while having an odd-man advantage. Let’s look at an example where a team has established possession in the zone, five-on-five. Using the switch after establishing the zone. The Colorado Avalanche are currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference, and much of their success comes from their ability to use their speed to create space. It’s not uncommon to see fast skaters, such as Connor McDavid, Andreas Athanasiou, and Nathan Mackinnon, make these long circling arcs around the zone. This creates chaos among the defenders, and as we have discussed, chaos leads to space. In the above clip, you will see #29 Nathan Mackinnon come curling around the top of the circle toward #28 Ian Cole. Mackinnon draws both defenders toward him, which creates space for Cole at the blueline (“the point”). A quick back-pass to Cole creates confusion among Vancouver as to who will pick him up. You’ll see #18 Jake Virtanen step up to cover him while #70 Tanner Pearson fills the spot he just left – both players now focus on Cole. As Mackinnon continues to cycle around the zone, it creates significant space at the top of the point. #49 Samuel Girard of the Avalanche, recognizes what is happening and cuts in to fill the void. Cole then feeds him an easy pass, where he has all the time in the world to post a shot on the screened goalie. These examples are only a couple of many but the concept remains the same – create space and you create opportunities. If you have the chance to sit down and watch a game or two this week, keep on eye out for this. Look for players moving the puck into busy areas of the ice then watch where their teammates establish their position. Hopefully, it’ll help you understand the game a little more. Until next week, wheel, snipe, celly. (we’ll cover that later)
The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association by Ed Willes The Rebel League paints a picture – for both good and bad – of the now-defunct World Hockey Association. Ed Willes goes in great detail to explore the league which introduced us to NHL greats such as the Howe family, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, and Barry Melrose. It’s also a fantastic look into how the WHL opened the doors for European players. “I just picked up the puck in the corner, and these two guys sprang from the other side,” says Hull. “Then it was bing-bing-bing and in the net and I just said, ‘What the f*** have we got here?’“ A Guy Like Me: Fighting to Make the Cut by John Scott The fighting aspect of hockey is quickly fading away – as it should – but it’s a part of the game that tends to be entirely misunderstood. I’m a 90’s kid who grew up with Tie Domi: What it Takes stuck in my VHS player. I was watching with my dad when Marty McSorley two-handed Donald Brashear in the head. The game today is vastly different than the one I grew up in. It was always easy to get caught up in the action but I never took the time to look into these fighters as hockey players – at their true love for the game and desire to succeed. John Scott does just that. From growing up in a trailer park in Edmonton, Alberta to scoring two goals and being crowned MVP of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, John Scott is as raw as it gets. He loves the game of hockey and idolized star defensemen. “That’s why Bourque inspired me so much—he played defense the way I wanted to play it. He had a world of skill and could move the puck really well. To this day, he has more goals, assists, and points than any defenseman in league history. But he also took care of his own end as well as anyone… That was my kind of player.” – excerpt from Chapter 1. The Game by Ken Dryden The Game may very well be one of the most interesting books ever written about the sport of hockey. NHL Hall-of-Famer Ken Dryden is arguably one of the greatest goalies to touch the ice and is on the list of 100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history. Featuring legends such as Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, and coach Scotty Bowman, the book supplies us with an in-depth look into the reality of life on the road of a professional athlete. It’s a very personal memoir which makes it difficult to put down at times and is one of those books that you could read over and over again – taking in the things you missed prior. A new edition was released to celebrate the book’s 20th anniversary that contains an additional chapter from Dryden – touching on the growth of the game since its first publication. The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffee The story of the 1980 Olympic gold-medal winning hockey team is well told through the movie Miracle which was released in 2004. The Boys of Winter pushes the story to new heights as Wayne Coffey takes us inside the mind of legendary coach Herb Brooks. It’s no secret that Brooks was a student of the game who never feared taking an uncommon path to get the most from his players. The legendary coach used questionable psychological tactics and innovative systems to lead a group of college kids on a path to Olympic gold. It’s a larger than life story which created unity during the time of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Cold War. Both the Disney movie and earlier documentary are great, but neither supply the details found within this book. Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds by Jack Falla This last book, from who I personally believe to be the greatest sportswriter of all time, is one that I hold very close to my heart. Simply put, the book consists of a collection of essays on backyard skating rinks and frozen ponds. If you have ever spent a cold winters night skating around in an endless game of shinny until all depth perception was taken by the dark, this is the book for you. If you haven’t? It is one of hockeys greatest gifts. The author, Jack Falla, had a way with words that would pull nostalgia from your soul. He was also a journalism professor at Boston University (Go Terriers!) and had a very successful career writing at Sports Illustrated. There are no words I could mold together which would do his writing justice, so I’ll just include this little bit from one of his essays. As January pushes into February and the sun, daily rising toward the vernal equinox, hits the ice at ever-higher angles, I can’t help wondering which skating session will be my last for that season. Even on the coldest late February days the midday sun reflecting off the south-facing boards will soften and often melt the ice at that end of the rink. I think it was this curiosity about what would be the final skating day of the season that led Barbara and me to start recording the season’s final skate in our rink’s guest book. . . . We had to do so days after the fact because with natural ice you never truly know what skate will be the final one. But in late February and early March I often get a feeling similar to the one I get when Barbara and I walk off the beach on Cape Cod on the last weekend in August. I just know in my bones that we won’t be back again that year. I cover it up with a lot of talk about how September is the best month on New England’s beaches and about how we live so close to the Cape we can zip down to the beach any time we want to. But summer’s over and I know it. It’s just too sad to say out loud. As I look in our guest book I see that I have taken the final skate in three of the six seasons we’ve been keeping that record. Twice by myself. Once with Barbara. And all three times I knew intuitively that it would be the final skate. And, even when I wasn’t the last skater off the ice in a given season, I still knew when I was taking my own last skate, and on those days I stayed out longer and skated harder. Of course I didn’t skate any better, I just did what I’ve tried to do ever since I took those first shuffling strides with my mother — skate as well as I can. Because life is different from a skating season, and in life you never know which skate will be your last. Only that one of them will be. you can read more at the Boston University website.
NHL Seattle, in partnership with Satisfi Labs, announced last week that they have developed an AI-powered Knowledge Management Platform to build a better relationship with fans. The team will rely on the software to help front office staff answer incoming questions ahead of their 2021 inaugural season. The platform was initially implemented in September to gather the most frequently asked questions and began use in October to manage incoming questions from season-ticket depositors – including assistance with the seat selection process. “Starting out as an expansion franchise, we have a really engaged fanbase so we are excited to be working with Satisfi Labs to stay one step ahead and provide the best possible experience for our depositors,” said Todd Humphrey in a press release issued on Thursday, SVP Digital and Fan Experience. “This solution will help us tremendously and allow us to focus on other growth opportunities before our launch in 2021.” NHL Seattle will rely on years of data to improve the overall fan experience. Satisfi Labs begin in 2016 when it entered the market developing its Answer Engine as a tool to answer customer questions at live venues – including theme parks and sports arenas. Using years of data, the group will help NHL Seattle build a strong relationship with its fanbase through direct communication. Individuals are still able to contact the front office through traditional means (ie. email, phone, etc) but fans are opting to use the new technology. Data supplied by Todd Humphrey, NHL Seattle’s senior vice president of digital and fan experience, shows that fans are 17-times more likely to reach out through the app than by email or phone – a number which is growing at a rapid pace. As with all AI-powered solutions, the platform will only get better with time and will allow NHL Seattle to develop a smoother experience throughout. The assistant software is currently available via both the web and app but there are plans to expand as well. It’s yet another example of the NHL Seattle front office using technology and data to set themselves apart from the start.