Why NHL is cramming Vegas Expansion Draft into Awards Show

Before the Vegas Golden Knights arrived, the last NHL Expansion Draft took place in 2000. Before Twitter and Facebook Live and Snapchat. Before an event like this could be a shared experience by millions of fans, on television and other platforms.

Which is to say that the Expansion Draft is a bigger deal in 2017, from the curiosity about the protected player lists to the revelation of the names that will fill the Golden Knights’ first jerseys.

It’s such a big deal that many assumed the NHL would carve out some television time in Canada and the U.S. for a “Meet The Knights” special or some such, dedicated to the draft.

That was the plan, originally. But the more the League considered the Expansion Draft’s proximity to the NHL Awards on its calendar – as well as the obvious Vegas connection with both events – the focus shifted from having two events to having one huge inaugural for the Golden Knights and their fans.

“We started thinking that these two events could be combined, and be at a much larger venue than we’ve ever done for the awards show,” said Steve Mayer, NHL Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President. “It felt right. It felt like we could pull this off. We felt like one could help the other.”

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On June 21 at 8 p.m. ET, the 2017 NHL Awards will be held at T-Mobile Arena, home of the Golden Knights. The League estimates that 13,000-15,000 fans will be in attendance, an audience that dwarfs the usual draw for the Awards.

Think of this from the perspective of a Golden Knights fan. You are going to be in an arena filled with your fellow fans for the first time. You’re going to witness the official unveiling of the team’s first crop of players. And, on top of it, you’re going to have the top names in the NHL in the house, accepting awards and interacted with the people before the show.

That’s pretty cool.

There will be four segments dedicated to the Expansion Draft held during the show, with a different host than the celebrity host the League will hire to run the awards show. The set is designed to look like a traditional awards show one moment, and then transform into a more “draft board” look during the Golden Knights segments.

It’s still just a two-hour show, so Mayer said the awards portion had to be streamlined considerably.

“There are folks who say the NHL Awards show is too long. We’ve really tightened up the awards show. We’re moving a couple of the awards out. Giving them a separate ceremony, either during the Stanley Cup Playoffs or before the awards show,” he said.

To wit: On Friday, the League announced that the winners of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, the NHL Foundation Player Award and King Clancy Memorial Trophy will be announced Tuesday, June 20, at the 2017 NHL Humanitarian Awards, a special event at the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas.

(Alas, streamlined as it is, it appears the Awards Show will still have famous-for-hockey musical acts.)

So there will be plenty of time dedicated at the Awards to the NHL Expansion Draft. According to Mayer, Golden Knights GM George McPhee sends his final list of players he’s plucking from the other 30 teams to the NHL that morning. The hope is that the list is revealed for the first time on the NHL Awards show, but Mayer’s a realist.

“I hope the list does not leak. We’ll do everything to protect that. But I clearly understand that it may,” he said

“There is an interest, depending on who the picks are, to have a few Golden Knight players in attendance.”

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Getting a glimpse at the first Vegas players, while celebrating the NHL’s best and brightest players, would be a memorable night for the Knights fans in attendance. Fans that the NHL hopes will turn this year’s awards show into a raucous party.

“We just think the energy in the building will be off the charts,” said Mayer.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.