There's plenty to do in Las Vegas, but the one thing there isn't yet in Sin City is a major professional sports team. That could change this 2016-17 season as the NHL is eyeing expansion in Vegas.
Las Vegas Aces? Gamblers?
Sports leagues have long shied away from Vegas because of the gambling element, but the commissioners of the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball all now seem open to legalized gambling across the United States. The NBA's Adam Silver especially has been open about that, saying gambling is "good for business, I don't want to hide from that." Back in November, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times where he argued that betting "should be brought out of the underground." Silver has spoken with the other commissioners. Legalized gambling is going to happen within the next five years if not sooner, so Silver wants to get out in front of it and make sure to protect the league's integrity.
I always thought the NBA might be the first league to Las Vegas, but it's going to be the NHL. The sparkling new $350 million Las Vegas Arena is scheduled to open in the summer of '16. It is being built by AEG and MGM Resorts International and would hold about 17,300 for hockey -- any potential NHL team would have to lease the arena. The NHL never told the group that wants to bring an expansion team to Vegas that it absolutely would move there, but the league did allow Las Vegas to stage in a trial season-ticket drive to gauge interest in the marketplace for hockey. That drive reached the 11,000 season-ticket mark on Monday.
The Vegas group would have to spend somewhere around $500 million for a team, with that money split among the league's other owners. Vegas could be approved to start in the 2016-17 season with a more likely target date of the 2017-18 season as the team's first on the ice.
When the NHL realigned for the 2013-14 season it sent the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference and shifted the Winnipeg Jets to the West. But now there's an imbalance with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. That's obviously a competitive advantage for the West as there are two fewer teams competing for the conference's eight playoff spots. Certainly Vegas would go into the Western Conference and surely the Pacific Division. That would leave the Central as the only division with seven teams instead of eight.
One other potential landing spot for an NHL team to get to an even 32 is Seattle. However, a recent income levels study by American City Business Journals found that Seattle would financially accommodate NBA expansion or relocation, but was “borderline” at sustaining the NHL. Circle May 7 as that's the date of a final Environmental Impact Statement on an arena proposed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen. According to the Seattle Times, a memorandum of understanding between Hansen, the city and county calls for up to $200 million in bond funding as long as an NBA team plays here. But the agreement would have to be changed for an NHL team. Clearly the city would prefer an NBA club after losing the Sonics, but it may have to settle for hockey first. Hansen nearly bought and moved the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Houston, Louisville, Quebec and a second Toronto team also have been rumored to land an expansion franchise. The league will no doubt at least talk about expansion at the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas in June.
Whenever a team is awarded to Vegas, obviously it would affect all the other clubs as they would lose a player or two in any potential expansion draft. Back in the 2000 expansion draft, each NHL team had to have two players chosen, not more or less. Teams were allowed to protect either one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards, or two goaltenders, three defensemen and seven forwards. Columbus and Minnesota both had to use their first 24 selections on three goaltenders, eight defensemen and thirteen forwards. If you are wondering, the first player chosen in that draft was Avalanche goalie Rick Tabaracci by Colorado. He never played another NHL game. So it's not like Las Vegas will be getting a Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews type player in the expansion draft.