Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke on season 2 expectations, Seattle NBA rumors and Sue Bird statue plans

Seattle Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke sat down with Seattle Sports Live's Aaron Levine for a one-on-one interview ahead of the NHL franchise's second season.

Leiweke addresses everything from recent NBA rumors, to Sue Bird statue plans, to Kraken season two expectations, and the one-year anniversary of the Community Iceplex in Northgate.

Q: It was a monumental weekend at the Kraken Community Iceplex celebrating its one-year anniversary in Northgate. Kraken CEO Todd Leiweke joining us tonight. How important was this weekend and everything that's taken place at the Iceplex since it's opened?

Leiweke: Well, it was a great weekend. But it was really a celebration of the 52 prior weeks in this place being open. And you know, this was part of our vision. And this is one of the dreams that absolutely came through. We've had over a million people come through the doors, some never putting on a pair ice skates in their life, others dreaming of potentially playing in the NHL, we've got a young guy who's training and is now ranked nationally as one of the top figure skaters. So under this beautiful roof, lots of amazing things have happened and more are gonna come.

Q: I know fans got a bunch of discounts special deals throughout the weekend. In many ways, it's almost like closing the door on the first chapter of a great story. And now we're at the start of chapter number two with training camp right around the corner. Where do you think this team is as it heads into its second season

Leiweke:  Well, that was a heck of a year. If you would have told me when we began this journey that we would somehow finally figure out the arena situation in this city, we bring an NHL team here, we build a training center that would draw a million people, but you do it in the midst of a global pandemic, I would have not believed Aaron, but that's exactly what happened. So you know, I think for us, it's super exciting. A lot of the challenges of last year have now gone away, launching a team in COVID was just uniquely difficult - players not meeting other players; families, players not being able to socialize off the ice, you know, in a restricted way. Kids not coming to games, visiting team fans - I'd never thought I'd miss visiting team fans! But we did. And all of that now changes. And in our training center, not only is our training camp going to begin, but we're going to host the Coachella Valley Firebirds here. And you know, there'll be a period of time where these two teams are hosting training camp at the same time one sheet away. And I've been through a lot in sports - this is going to be a first for me, and it's super exciting.

Q: Certainly a glimpse into the future with the Firebirds in town for a couple of games. Also, with all the excitement surrounding year one going in. Were we all premature with expectations last year, and would it be overstepping to think this team has the chance to make the playoffs in Year Two?

Leiweke: Well, you know, to tell you the truth, my expectations were met. What we always said is, we want to be smart and build through the draft. And we really worked hard on building out an analytics team and a super, super scouting staff. And when I look back at the first two draft years we've had, I couldn't be more proud. Our center position, which is typically the hardest position to fill in the NHL, you know we found our future stars. And to think that we feel that way going into our second season - a lot of credit to Ron Francis. And being patient because he wants to win more than anyone. This guy had an amazing career. 23 years captain of four teams. Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. This guy wants to win as much as anyone but he doesn't want to win once - he wants to build a sustainable winner. And that's really the directive from ownership. And you know, to do that you’ve got to be smart, you have to be strategic. If you're going to draft, you’ve got to be prepared for when those initial draft year contracts come up. We are excited for the season - we had not only a successful draft, we were really excited about free agency and then made a trade that might be one of my favorite trades in my career. And we're super excited.

Q: I know the fans are very excited as well. And I've learned one big thing with the arena. That place gets really loud if there's a big event and we just saw that in the last week with the WNBA playoffs with the Storm - such an enjoyable series to watch in that building. I'm going to keep asking - how close are we to getting a statue of Sue Bird outside the arena?

Leiweke: "Well, let me talk a little bit about the Storm because the arena was really about a place where dreams would come true. So, for hockey fans, dreams came true - the team came and it's going to be great. For fans of Paul McCartney, to see one of his final shows - maybe his final show in Seattle. For Bruce Springsteen's fans who are going to get to see The Boss. But I think for the WNBA team, their best days are now in front of them. They've had an amazing story to this point. But legitimately they can now dream big dreams. This arena for them brought some prosperity that had been missing. It created a true partnership. They're not just a tenant, they're partners. And they're great friends. And, you know, hard to see Sue's career end, but exciting to think about their future. And now they're a team with resources and renown. Visiting team players came in and saw this building. The future for the Storm is super bright.

Q: And I know Sue is going to be hanging around town also. That's good thing. Back to the statue thing quickly, any chance in the future?

Leiweke: Well, we try to do things right. And I think there's only one right outcome there. But I'm not going to get ahead of our friends at the Storm.

Q: Okay,well, fingers crossed with that one, we'll check in with our friends at the Storm. Also, I know you've also said that you're going to follow the NBA’s lead in any possible expansion announcements. There was a report earlier this week that the league wanted to announce future expansion to Seattle and Las Vegas right around the Clippers preseason game here. Can you address that at all? And any validity to it?

Leiweke: Yeah, I'm not going to address that. There's going to be a lot of rumors and innuendos. You know, we think the best thing that we can do is not ever get ahead of the league. They’ve got big issues coming: They're in a CBA discussion, and they've got broadcast deals coming up. In due time, they will get to this. And in due time, we're going to be well positioned. The hard work is done, building a world class arena. That's why the team left. We now have that world class arena in place. It will stand the test of time. The building is phenomenal for basketball. And we're super excited about the Clippers playing the Portland Trailblazers here. And in fact, two games that are gonna play here, the first NBA game in our building will happen that first week in October - and we're going to have a packed house and in our own Seattle way we will tell the world we are here. We are ready.

Q: No doubt about that. And I know the arena was a big thing. But let me kind of ask it this way: If the league was to say, ‘Hey, this is an option. Does your group have everything in place, from the upfront costs to a plan to make the finances work in the building? Is everything buttoned up from your end if the league were to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a green light?’

Leiweke: Well, you know, we have an owner that owns part of an NBA team. So there's a built-in affinity there. And I would just say, Aaron, I came back to make some stuff happen. And we're not done yet. And so, I don't want to get ahead of the commissioner. But we've tried to do everything right. From privately financing a building, to saving a historic landmark, to embedding more capacitors and getting the monorail fixed, being great partners with the Storm, to building a training center. We've done everything right. But we're not done. And we know this town won't be fulfilled until we bring the NBA back. But I'll leave it at that.

Q: Well, we love to hear that. And if it happens, you yourself would have your fingerprints on four pro franchises in this town - from the Kraken, to the Sounders and the Seahawks as well. The 12s will be loud tomorrow against Russell – You think they’re going to cheer him or boo him -  what do you think?

Leiweke: Well, I will just say this: I love this town. This is my hometown and to come back and have the privilege of doing this…but when we think about sports right now in this city, my Sounders - love the Sounders; the Storm and what they've done; the Mariners and John Stanton, one of the great owners in all sports, not just in this town and all sports and they're getting what they deserve, which is this team is going to make a run and they're going to make big noise in the playoffs. And then can you believe it? Game One, Monday Night Football, Russell Wilson, who would have thought? That's why it's so much fun to be a sports fan in this town. And ultimately, that's what I am.