Ever since it became clear last year that the NHL was planning to add an expansion team in Seattle, the SHL’s Seattle Sailors knew they were living on borrowed time. Although the NHL’s new club won’t take the ice until 2021, Sailors owner Gary Blum isn’t the type to sit around waiting; he wanted to find a new home for his team as soon as possible. This week, Blum announced that he was selling the Sailors to a group that will move the team to Portland, Oregon for the 2020 season.
“We’ve had a great run here in Seattle, and I wish we could stick around for the long term,” Blum told reporters. “But we’re getting pushed out. Luckily, I was able to find a strong ownership group that’s looking forward to continuing what we’ve built, just in a new city.”
The Portland group is led by Jared Carmichael, a Rose City native and owner of a craft brewery and several local bars and restaurants. “This is a really exciting opportunity for our city,” Carmichael said. “Portland is growing rapidly, and it’s about time that we had another big-league sports team here. I’m confident that the fans will support this team just as strongly as they did in Seattle, if not even better!”
Carmichael wasted no time announcing the new name for the team. They will be known as the Portland Bluebacks, a name with a local connection. The USS Blueback is a decommissioned US Navy submarine that was in service from 1959 and 1990. Based out of the Pacific, the Blueback saw action in the Vietnam War and participated in multiple RIMPAC exercises. She also appeared in the movie “Hunt for Red October.”
After being decommissioned, the Blueback was purchased by the Oregon Museum for Science and Industry, which towed it to the Willamette River and uses it as an interactive exhibit. The Blueback is a popular local landmark, and has been mentioned in the TV series “Portlandia.”
Carmichael said he chose the name as a tribute to his late father, a Navy officer and Vietnam War veteran. “I know if Dad were still with us, he’d be right there at center ice, cheering the team on,” said the incoming owner. “I love the name; it’s uniquely Portland, it connects to our nautical heritage, and it honors my father and others who have served our country.”
At the press conference, Carmichael also unveiled the Bluebacks’ logo, which he explained was inspired by the patch worn by those who served on the submarine. The logo features a submarine coming out of the water, with a fish emerging from the conning tower. The fish is a blueback salmon, a common species in the Pacific Northwest, for which the submarine was named.
The Bluebacks will play in Willamette River Arena, located in Portland’s redeveloping South Waterfront neighborhood not far from the OMSI. “SoWa is a great emerging area, one of the neighborhoods that really shows how Portland has grown and changed in recent years,” Carmichael said. “With the Bluebacks coming, it’s going to be the hottest spot in town!”
The sale is contingent upon approval of the SHL’s owners, but league sources said this should be just a formality.
The Sailors are currently deep in the hunt for their first-ever playoff spot. Asked if the sale news would dampen the team’s momentum, Blum replied, “I don’t think so, no. In fact, I think it would be a nice parting gift for Seattle if we’re able to go out on a high note. I’d love to leave the city with a happy memory, and I know our organization feels the same.”
Carmichael declined to comment on whether he planned to keep current Sailors personnel such as GM Taylor Teichman or coach Harold Engellund. “Hey, let’s let the season play out,” Carmichael laughed. “I will say that they’re doing a heck of a job so far!”
Sailors RW Vince Mango was at the press conference, and he reacted positively to the news. “As a player, you don’t want to have to keep getting questions about where you’re going to be next year. I’m excited to know what our future holds,” Mango said. “And I hear that Portland’s a cool place to hang out!”