The league announced just prior to their draft that Las Vegas would be the new expansion city, it was chosen over Quebec City. The NHL will essentially become the guinea pig for the rest of the big four sports to see if Las Vegas is a sustainable location for a professional franchise. Las Vegas has been a really intriguing option for many years now, as it was the largest city in the US without a major four sports team. With a population just north of 600,000 and about 42 million visitors per year, Vegas could be an absolute cash cow. However, there is a potential issue, and that is there really aren’t many people who are true Las Vegas natives. With that said, I really wonder how much of a home fan base they will be able to build. Las Vegas is in a unique situation where they are one of, if not the most desirable tourist destination in the world and added a bonus incentive to visit during the colder months of the year for most of the country. Annual visitors from major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago where they have loyal and well traveled fan bases should increase and in turn, bring in more money.
There are a few other major positives that Las Vegas has working in its favor. First is that they have T-Mobile Arena which is a state-of-the-art facility that opened in April 2016. The Vegas Hockey team will have the building all to themselves (until the NBA moves into town). Second major factor is how well the NHL’s expansion draft works. Each team will be allowed to protect 7 forwards, 3 defense-men and 1 goalie so long as the player is not on an entry-level contract. If a player has a no-trade or no-movement clause and chooses to exercise it, the team must then use one of their slots to protect that player. Vegas will then have their choice of one player from each of the other teams to fill out their roster AND on top of that, they will be guaranteed a draft pick in the upcoming rookie draft no lower than 6th overall. That’s a hell of a haul for a brand new team and legitimately gives them a chance to be competitive and even possibly a playoff team in Year 1 (assuming they are in the Pacific), which would be a massive win for the league. Lastly, as I’ve mentioned previously, Las Vegas is a really desirable location and I am sure there are a few NHLers that wouldn’t mind living there full-time, I’m looking at you Jarret Stoll. They have great weather, it is an affordable city in terms of cost of living and is the entertainment capital of the world. Three pretty damn good selling points to players looking to make a move to a new city, especially on a typically lower (but still solid) NHL pay-scale.
If this expansion works, expect to see the other three major sports, with the potential exception of the MLB, lining up to start a franchise in Las Vegas. It is really interesting that the NHL is the first of the leagues to move a team to Las Vegas because of the oxymoron of hockey being played in the desert, but then again look at Arizona…er maybe not. Terrible example, but still, Vegas is not Phoenix. The hope is obviously that any of the issues the Coyotes have had will be ironed out for Las Vegas in the form of an actual owner, Bill Foley, who will announce his General Manager tomorrow and begin hiring a staff in the coming weeks/months.