NHL in Las Vegas? Sin City expansion franchise momentum gaining steam

Sometimes I get asked where I’d like to see the NHL place an expansion franchise, and I have both delusional and practical answers.

From a practical standpoint, the NHL should place teams in Seattle – geographically and demographically advantageous – and a second team in Toronto, which will be an ATM for league revenues. From a delusional standpoint, my answer is always Bora Bora.

Putting an NHL team in Las Vegas, however, has a little practical and a dash of delusional. Bob McKenzie of TSN offered this tantalizing tidbit this week on expansion:

McKenzie: The NHL party line hasn't changed. There are no formal plans for expansion but if they expand and everyone assumes at some point, they're going to, the common knowledge is that Seattle is the primary target in the Pacific Northwest. The strong sense I'm getting now is that Las Vegas is second on that list behind Seattle and the NHL wants to be the first major professional sports league to put a franchise in Las Vegas.

People in Quebec City may be saying, 'Hey, what about us?' Well, keep in mind, there's no rule that says if they expand, that they only expand by two teams. The possibility of expanding by three teams, with Quebec City being one of them, is at least something that will be considered. There's lots of money in expansion; over $300 million per franchise, close to a $1 billion windfall that isn't shared with the players or anyone else, just the owners.

The NHL obviously has some relationships built in Vegas through having the NHL Awards there, and would find no shortage of interested minority owners on the West Coast.

It’s interesting that the NHL is into being the first “big four” league in the market. The League had the same chance in Oklahoma City, but passed on that opportunity in the 1990s. Then the Sonics relocated there, and the Thunder became a huge sensation and cash cow. Whoops.

From Steve Whyno of the Canadian Press, on the Vegas prospects:

There isn't much of a hockey tradition in the Nevada desert, but Las Vegas does have the ECHL's Wranglers and previously an International Hockey League franchise. The Wranglers play at Orleans Arena, which seats under 8,000 for hockey and wouldn't be a possibility. Thomas & Mack Center, which houses UNLV college basketball, could be a very short-term fix.

Plans for a new, 20,000-seat arena in Paradise, Nevada, have been discussed for several years, but nothing has been made official. Given the money in the market, getting a facility up and working in a short period of time is the least of concerns for Las Vegas.

Ownership would be vital, and the Maloof family, which sold the NBA's Sacramento Kings earlier this year, could be in the discussion. Joe and Gavin Maloof have looked into bringing an NHL team to Las Vegas and even met with Bettman to discuss it, according to an April report in the Sacramento Bee.

My main concern, shared by the Vegas locals I’ve spoken to about expansion, has always been about the entertainment dollar. The games are at night, competing with every conceivable entertainment option. It’s a 24-hour job cycle, too: How many fans are working when the games are being played too?

That said, the idea that an NHL team could be part of an overall package for snow bird tourists – two nights, a free buffet and a game against the Oilers! – could be an interesting work around foundational fan support.

What say you to the NHL in Vegas?