NHL Holding at “14” and “16” – For Now
Construction is underway for the new 20,000 seat arena behind the Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas. Photo Credit, Bob Snow.
LAS VEGAS – Stroll through the myriad of casinos along the Strip and among the plethora of blackjack tables, and you’ll hear the common refrain: “Holding at 14 — or 16.”
It’s no different at the NHL headquarters on Avenue of the Americas in the Big Apple where Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL team owners are sitting pat to not expand the current number of teams from 30 — 14 in the Western Conference and 16 in the Eastern.
Public “no-expansion” posturing aside, across from the MGM complex is a different picture about the possible (make that likely) NHL expansion.
With 40 million visitors a year and a population of 2 million, Las Vegas makes sense for expansion.
This past May 1, the shovels hit the dirt for a 350-million-dollar, 20,000-seat-sports arena behind the Monte Carlo Resort being built by MGM Resorts International and AEG Live, a worldwide power in the arena and entertainment business. Expected completion date is spring 2016.
In June, the NHL held its annual awards here.
The Colorado Avalanche and Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings drew a full house at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in early October with 10,000 on hand.
While collegiate basketball and football programs still dominate the local sports scene, especially with San Francisco 49er’s and former UNLV QB Colin Kaepernick having played in the shadows of the new arena, the pro-hockey niche has but two minor-league teams.
There is the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers that have suspended play for this season, but will resume next year.
Then there’s the Las Vegas Wolves of the Mountain West Hockey League that have been to the MWHL Cup finals each of the last two years.
As a team of walk-ons.
Gotta love the dedication to four ounces of vulcanized rubber by this group.
This month, the Wolves held their annual open try-out camp if you think you have what it takes to play high-speed, full-contact travel hockey against the best Senior A teams in the west. Players must bring their own equipment and are responsible for their own transportation and lodging. The tryout fee covers the cost of ice time and coaches running the event. You need to be 18 years of age or older, have heath insurance, and possess advanced hockey skill including hockey experience at the high school, Junior, college and or professional levels.
Ironically, that level of zeal for an NHL team is evident from across the USA and Canada to across the pond in Europe and beyond as puck pundits weighed in heavily along the Strip in support for NHL expansion.
At the MRI Park where the new arena and adjoining park is under construction, there was no shortage of input from the masses – who sauntered by in 95-degree heat – about why the NHL should face off a hundred yards away.
Stewart Don, a CPA from suburban Boston is a big Bruins fan. “I’ve been here 50 times and seen all of the shows,” Don said. “An NHL game would be a definite for me. And it’s amazing how many foreigners visit Vegas during the hockey season.”
Two were Phil Kirby and his wife, Hannah, from Nottingham, England. “We’ve been to a few hockey games back home,” she said. “Do they fight as much here? We’d definitely come to a game here.”
“Definitely, I’d take in an NHL game here, especially if it’s a Leafs game,” diehard Toronto fan Dave Pags said. “I think people would like the NHL here.”
“I didn’t know they were building a rink here,” Peter and Lynn from Parksville, BC, said. As big Canucks fans, Peter said: “I think you’d get a lot of people going to games. You’ll get a lot of people from around the country and out who are hockey fans who come here for holidays and looking for things to do.”
Andrew and Emily are big hockey fans from Wisconsin. “They do preseason stuff here so why not a team,” he said. “Didn’t know about the NHL maybe coming here. We would absolutely come to a game.”
One of the staunchest supporters for NHL expansion stood tanned with a hardhat, arms folded. and overseeing the construction entrance gates.
“The place would be filled every night,” construction supervisor and local resident Fritz Zwart said emphatically. “They fill the MGM Grand when they play games there. With the visiting teams, you’ve got their fans already here. Red Wings and LA Kings I see them walking the strip.”
It may be light years until the silver of Lord Stanley slivers down the 4-mile Strip by the (how about?) “Las Vegas Sierras.”
With attendance up across the NHL and each expansion fee fetching likely several hundred million, along with the recent multi-billion-dollar Rogers Sportsnet broadcast deal preceded by the NBCSports contract for NHL games on primetime, the League has never been in a better long-term financial position to expand.
Add the two openings for new teams in the Western Conference that would balance each conference at 16, and it’s a sure bet for a first-faceoff, likely in Seattle and Las Vegas in 2016-17 or the following season.
The last two teams to join the League were the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.
Bettman told the Las Vegas Review Journal in June: “Right now, we’re not looking to expand. I know Las Vegas is an important city. Whether or not it’s a city for the NHL to put a team in is still to be determined. We have not done any investigating as to whether or not the city could support the NHL or looked at potential ownership groups. If the owners were to approve expansion, we would certainly begin looking more closely at Las Vegas and other potential markets.”
Those other potential markets? The commissioner and owners also face heavy pressure from Quebec City and southern Ontario for expansion franchises there.
Making a four-team expansion a good bet.
Hard to figure how the NHLPA with about a 100 more roster jobs at a minimum starting salary of about $500,000 and a salary cap of about 70 million per team would object.
Then add jobs for support staff from coaches to concessionaires.
At some point in the not-to-distant future, Bettman and the 30 NHL owners will move from the Blackjack table to the poker table, holding “pocket Aces” with an “Ace-Ace” in the flop.
And make the “All-in” – and winning bet for expansion.
“The NHL belongs here,” Dave Pags urged.
Relive the NHL Awards from this past June in the video below