Bill Foley, the billionaire behind the Las Vegas NHL expansion bid, is “9.5 out of 10” confident that the League will award him a franchise.
He thinks that the state-of-the-art T-Mobile Arena, opening in April, is enough to earn a team. He thinks 14,000 season-ticket “deposits and commitments” are enough, with the upper bowl of the Vegas arena sold out. He thinks having sold out all but one of his luxury boxes in the arena is enough.
So he’s watching and waiting. “They’re doing their job. They’re doing their process,” he said of the NHL, in an interview with NBC 3 in Las Vegas this week. “I don’t talk to the owners. I’m in a quiet time. It’s like a public offering: I’m trying to be patient.”
That said, Foley isn’t quiet about one aspect of the timeline: He’d like an answer by June if this team is going to debut in the 2017-18 season.
Why June? For one reason, that’s the earliest he can start looking for a hockey operations staff. “We really can’t talk to potential GMs or coaches or scouting staff [in season],” he said.
But an answer this summer means that the rest of the NHL can start figuring out the biggest issue facing the Vegas team on the ice: How its roster will be populated.
“Are players with [no-move] clauses going to be part of the draft or not part of the draft?” asked Foley.
That’s the trick, isn’t it? Figuring out if teams can drop their most bloated, regrettable contracts into the expansion draft in the hopes that Foley picks up the tab?
The CBA states that a no-move clause "may prevent the involuntary relocation of a player, whether by trade, loan or waiver claim."
Does that include an expansion draft?
“It’s not expressly addressed, is what I’d say,” Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, said at the NHL All-Star Game. “Anything we do on an expansion draft we’ll do in consultation with the NHLPA.”
Ultimately, the players are probably going to lose on this one. Teams are going to want to have this opportunity for an “expansion amnesty” for unmovable contracts. The NHL, meanwhile, is going to want these veteran players to find their way to Vegas or Quebec City so these teams – and this is a technical term – don’t abjectly suck.
“We want a competitive expansion team,” said Daly. “While all expansion teams have a honeymoon period, and there will be enthusiasm in the market, unless they have a competitive team on the ice that enthusiasm will wane, and can create business issues.”
That said, Foley isn’t sure how much spending he’ll be allowed to do in Year 1 if Vegas is awarded a franchise. After all, they’ll have no money against the cap: What would prevent Vegas from taking an offer sheet run at, say, Ondrej Palat or Ryan Johansen or Evgeny Kuznetsov, who go RFA in Summer 2017? Or, perish the thought, Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid in 2018?
“It depends on how much they’ll let us use in the first year. It may be all, it may not be all,” he said.
Foley doesn’t have a team, but he does have a plan: He wants to win between 25-30 games in the first season of Vegas hockey; then 40 the next season; and then 50 in Year 3, with a team in the playoffs.
If the NHL does expand to Vegas, that’ll all depend on how the NHL and its teams allow Foley to stack his deck.