There are few topics in the NHL that get people buzzing like expansion and relocation do. Drop some morsel of news in the dead of August, and it’s like tossing the last bite of a Shake Shack burger to a flock of pigeons in Central Park.
On Tuesday, Tony Gallagher and Howard Bloom chucked their meat and the flock went crazy. Gallagher said that NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a “done deal,” and then Bloom upped the ante by claiming that the NHL will add Vegas, Seattle, a second Toronto franchise and Quebec City by 2017, the 100th anniversary of the League.
(No word on whether the League will begin an aggressive cloning program to fill out those rosters with NHL-level talent. Protect your comb, Jonathan Toews, they’re coming for DNA samples!)
Bill Daly of the NHL said the four-team expansion is "not in" the NHL's plans. Because what else is he supposed to say...
Gallagher of The Province wrote with finality that the NHL was coming to Las Vegas through expansion:
Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City.
And given how dead set against a team in the gambling haven the commissioner was 10 years ago, this move into another player friendly state-tax-free zone represents a considerable about-face indeed.
You know, we started getting an inkling that Bettman had changed his tune on Las Vegas when he moved one of the league’s signature promotional events there in 2009, but yes, this is a considerable about-face indeed!
So, in summary, expansion to Las Vegas is a “done deal” except for the fact that there isn’t an ownership group that’s been approved by the Board of Governors; nor is there an expansion fee established for the market that would, in theory, determine who’s willing to buy-in (oooh, Vegas parlance!).
Look, we’re all in total squee-mode for a team in Vegas. Or really any declaration that expansion is going to happen. But the proliferation of this “done deal” report – by Tony Gallagher, no less – is the most Hockey August moment in the history of Hockey August.
For the love of Balsillie, he actually writes “the only thing to be determined” is the group actually owning the team. That’s like writing, “The Penguins are going to trade for a first-line winger. They just need to find a team that will trade them one.”
Is Vegas a done deal? Of course not.
Is it likely? Connecting the dots, one could draw that conclusion.
MGM Grand and AEG aren’t building a $375 million arena to house a Carrot Top repertoire. The NHL didn’t structure its realigned conferences with 16 in the East and 14 in the West to make things easier for Winnipeg. And with the NHL pulling in record revenue, attendance and ratings, the iron hasn’t been hotter to strike for expansion.
But as we’ve noted previously about Vegas: It’s unlike any other market in professional sports. There’s unrivaled competition for entertainment dollars. Many of the people who would attend the games as local fans are working while the games are being played. The largest target audience for the team would be the casinos who fill the considerable luxury box space in the new arena and tourists who pop in to see a game while in Sin City – or, perhaps, get comp’d for one.
It wouldn’t surprise us in the least to see the NHL dive into the market, despite those mysteries, just to be first ones in and because Bettman obviously believes an association with Vegas brings some level of prestige to the League.
But what about the other three teams?
Bloom, of Sports Business News, reported later on Tuesday that the NHL was going full-on expansiongasm by adding every city that it’s considering adding for the last several years. Four new franchises, none through relocation:
“NHL expansion – four teams added by 2017, Quebec City, Toronto, Seattle, and Las Vegas $1.4b in expansion fees”
If you’ve been following the Seattle angle, you know the situation: Chris Hansen – the billionaire, not the predator catcher – has an arena construction deal with the city that hangs on attracting an NBA team; the only hope for an NHL team there first is if Hansen has a change of heart, and Vancouver billionaire Victor Coleman is working with him to that end.
Then comes the real fight: Convincing a city council that has otherwise been apathetic to hockey to turn on the funding faucet for an NHL team’s arena.
Then there’s Quebec City, which will have an NHL-ready arena next year and has no shortage of financial powerhouses ready to step up for an expansion franchise. It’s also been the most public and hubristic bid for a team, otherwise known as the opposite of how Gary Bettman likes to operate.
Then there’s a second team in Toronto, which remains the best idea out of all of these options. Then again, what media conglomerates are left to own a team there? The Score app?
And what level of bribery to the Leafs would it take to even crack that market?
Bloom believes this will happen because the NHL won’t be able to keep itself from collecting that expansion franchise windfall, and that’s as solid a theory as any. It makes sense that the League would expand quickly before losing that expansion money to another relocation (/casts an eye at Florida and Arizona).
All of this makes sense from a timing perspective and, of course, because we understand the League’s avarice. There are still significant obstacles in a couple of these markets, but it’s not outrageous to think it could happen.
Which leaves us with the biggest decisions of all: The nicknames! Seattle Sasquatch, Las Vegas Craps, Quebec Nordiques (‘natch) and Toronto Rakes (the sworn enemy of Leafs)!