I may not like the Yankees (as a Blue Jays fan, I’m obligated to hate them), but it’s undeniable that Derek Jeter is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. So it was neat to see him go out of his way to connect with the greatest hockey player of all time. On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Yankees were in Seattle for the third of three meetings this week and Gretzky was in attendance, right in the front row. Jeter came over in between innings, shook Gretzky’s hand and exchanged a few kind (I assume) words with the NHL legend.
It was a nice moment, made hilarious by the kid in the Yankees jersey and hat immediately behind Gretzky desperately holding out his hand, trying to get Jeter to acknowledge his existence. Go score 92 goals in a single season, kid, and maybe Jeter will give you the time of day.
The bigger news, however, was why Gretzky was in Seattle in the first place.
Back in February, the city of Seattle announced a proposal to build a $500 million arena in the SoDo neighbourhood. The man (and the money) behind the proposal, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, was a fan of the Seattle Supersonics and intends to bring the NBA back to Seattle. Part of the deal with the city of Seattle, however, is that Hansen will receive minimal financial support from the city unless the NHL also comes to Seattle.
Hansen has no interest in the NHL himself, but will need to bring someone on board who does. Could Gretzky, whose last connection to the NHL was as part-owner, head of hockey operations, and head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, be part of a group to bring the NHL to Seattle?
Maybe, but Gretzky wasn’t in town to meet with Hansen. Instead, he discussed the potential of an NHL arena with city officials in Bellevue, which is directly across Lake Washington from Seattle. Bellevue has been rumoured to be working on building a new NBA/NHL arena since the Sonics left Seattle and have been in serious talks with private investors to make it happen. A year ago, Don Levin, part owner of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, was connected with rumours of a plan to build an NHL arena in Bellevue.
Gretzky’s visit certainly complicates the situation, potentially introducing a competitor for an NHL or NBA team in a city that used to be a suburb of Seattle.
Hansen’s proposal in Seattle certainly has a head start: he has already spent $35 million to purchase land in the SoDo area and Seattle city council will be voting on a proposal to invest $80 million in the arena plan as early as next week. In Hansen, the SoDo proposal has a passionate potential owner of an NBA franchise. The one issue for hockey fans is that they seemingly have no prospects for an NHL owner.
A visit from Wayne Gretzky, of course, doesn’t make the arena plans in Bellevue any more solid than they were last week. It does create interest, however. Until last night, no one cared about the possibility of an NBA/NHL arena in Bellevue. The Great One’s meeting with city officials suddenly has a lot of people talking about Bellevue. It’s possible that was their plan all along.
Personally, I would recommend that Chris Hansen get Wayne Gretzky on the phone as soon as possible. As much as Hansen doesn’t care about the NHL, he’ll get a lot more financial help from the city of Seattle if he can collaborate with a potential NHL owner. Getting Gretzky involved, even as an advisor or figurehead, could only help. Gretzky still commands a lot of attention.