Months after I originally announced it, there has finally been confirmation that the National Hockey League (NHL) is coming to Las Vegas in the form of an expansion team. What will be the 31st team will start playing in the 2017-18 season. The Las Vegas franchise creation was approved in a unanimous vote conducted during the Board of Governors’ meeting on Wednesday.
The NHL is the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to belatedly put a team in Las Vegas. This will be the NHL’s first expansion team since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild came into the League in the 2000-01 season. The League will receive a $500 million expansion fee from Bill Foley, the billionaire businessman who spearheaded the Las Vegas expansion bid and will be the franchise’s principal owner. The $500 million will be distributed equally among the existing 30 teams.
Foley hopes to have the name of the team and its logo in place by the start of the 2016-17 season so they can start selling merchandise. Apparently his preference is Black Knights, largely because of his ties to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (and which doesn’t on the face of it have much to do with Vegas) but the plan is to work with the NHL to come up with the appropriate name for the franchise.
In terms of how this will work, it is believed that Las Vegas will be the eighth team in the Pacific Division and the 15th in the Western Conference. The NHL has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference. The Las Vegas team will play its home games at the brand new T-Mobile Arena, which can hold 17,368 for a hockey game. MGM must be breathing a huge sigh of relief that their expensive project (which was built with hockey in mind) is going to get its anchor franchise team. There have been more than 14,000 deposits for season tickets and all of the luxury seats in T-Mobile Arena have been sold.
There’s going to be an expansion draft designed to give the Las Vegas franchise the best chance to be successful immediately. Vegas will select one player from each of the existing 30 teams, including at least 14 forwards, nine defenders and three goalies. It must select a minimum of 20 players who have existing contracts that carry through the 2017-18 season and the average annual value of the total contracts it takes on must be at least 60 percent of the 2016-17 season salary cap limit, which is $73 million. The existing 30 teams will have the option to protect seven forwards, three defenders and one goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and one goalie, from the expansion draft. Teams have to submit their protection lists by 5 p.m. ET on June 17, 2017. Las Vegas has to submit its selections for the expansion draft by 5 p.m. ET on June 20. The results of the expansion draft will be released publicly on June 21.
We can only hope that this decision paves the way for the NFL to follow suit and allow a football franchise in Vegas. Great sport that ice hockey is, the NFL would be the jewel in the crown and the interest shown in the hockey franchise would be dwarfed by comparison to that expected were an NFL team to be based in the city. How about LV Raiders?