The NHL expansion franchise is Tod Leiweke’s third in Seattle, following the turnaround of the NFL Seahawks and the founding of the MLS Sounders, both considered resounding successes. After Seattle, his NHL Tampa Bay Lightning seems to have done well lately, winning the past two Stanley Cups, although his tenure as consigliere there ended in 2015. He left to be chief operating officer of the NFL, which you may have heard has had some success.
But after agreeing to join brother Tim Leiweke in a they-said-it-can’t-be-done project in Seattle, he fell into a mastodon-scale headache. Someday over cocktails, he likely will admit that he would rather have spent the past three years sleeping in a bed of broken light bulbs than building an arena at the same time as building a franchise, and doing both in an income-free pandemic.
But there he was Wednesday, mic in hand at Gasworks Park, doing his best white-guy Baptist preacher impression.
The Kraken has a general manager and coach, who were announcing the club’s first 30 veteran players. They were preparing for the entry draft Friday of mostly kids, followed by the start of free agency Wednesday. While the preposterous adventure of Climate Pledge Arena is 90 percent complete, it isn’t 100 percent complete, and the NHL schedule to be released Thursday says the Vancouver Canucks are traveling there to play the Kraken there Oct. 23.
Usually anything under this much pressure produces diamonds.
In Leiweke, it produced an exhortation.
Ahead of an ESPN national telecast from the edge of shimmering Lake Union, he was warming up an audience of 4,000 holders of free tickets, and a flotilla that arced from yachts to paddleboards.
Leiweke called the congregation to its feet.
Referring to the magnitude of the day and the entire project, he beseeched them.
“This isn’t another stop on the schedule,” he shouted. “It’s the damn show!”
In the absence of contradictory evidence, he seems right. For sure, he had to feel better after that release of tension.
The Kraken may be a first-year team, but the money poured into this enterprise — $1 billion for the arena, $650 million expansion fee, $250 million for a minor league arena in Palm Springs and up to $100 million for the team offices and practice facility at Northgate, and now up to $81 million in first-year player salaries — says that this better be the damn show.
On a day that may have surprised some national TV-news viewers who were told that Seattle had burned down last summer, the show went on.
Six of the 30 players selected were flown in for the event, dressed in the newly revealed home and away sweaters. Several were introduced by Seattle sports icons — Sue Bird and Marshawn Lynch via video, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Lenny Wilkens, Bobby Wagner and Kyle Lewis live — and the pucksters all seemed somewhere between stunned and dazzled by the enthusiastic aquatic reception.
Chris Driedger, the Florida Panthers backup goalie who at the moment is the likeliest candidate to be minding the net in the opener, was nearly gasping.
“Can you believe this?” he said, surveying the maritime party. “This is incredible.”
Another guy looking stunned, for a different reason, was defenseman Mark Giordano, a 15-year veteran of one team, the Calgary Flames, who at 37 was the oldest draftee.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said on ESPN. “It feels a little bit different today. It’s been a crazy last day or so. But, hey, this is the first time in my career I’ve ever been drafted. So thank you to the Kraken, and I’m happy to be here.”
Presuming good health and no trades, the former free agent signee is likeliest to be the first face of the franchise because of his senior eminence. Three years ago he won the Norris Trophy as the game’s premier defenseman. GM Ron Francis must trust him to be the lead dog.
As you guys see, we have a fairly young team,” Giordano said. “A lot of young talent. But that’s the NHL now. So many guys who are superstars in our league are under the age of 25. So looking forward to helping out as much as I can.
“Just offer them any advice I can, as an older guy who has been around for a long time.”
Last season, he had nine goals and 17 assists and led the Flames in ice time and respect.
“He’s one of the best D in the league,” teammate Rasmus Andersson told the Calgary Herald. “His work ethic, how good he is every night. It’s not just every other night. It’s every night we play. He’s our leader; he’s our captain. Every person in here learns a lot from him.”
Giordano is the guy that the many Seattle newbies to hockey will embrace right away. There’s still a blizzard of personnel transactions ahead that may send numerous members of first 30 elsewhere, but he’ll be around for the $2 billion show staged by Leiweke, et al.
After building arenas and a franchise at a breakneck pace through a pandemic, the easy part is almost here: Getting to the Stanley Cup final in their first year, as did their fellow expansionists, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
No pressure, Tod. Have another scream.