Seattle to Join NHL in 2021-22 as 32nd Franchise

The NHL Board of Governors has approved the location for the league’s 32nd franchise: Seattle. They will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

At the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Sea Island, Georgia today, the vote was unanimous to approve the Seattle ownership group’s application for entry into the league. In addition, the league approved a realignment of the Western Conference’s divisions that would see Seattle join the Pacific Division and the Arizona Coyotes shift to the Central. (The Coyotes will stay put in the Pacific until the 2021-22 season.)

Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned that this will make the NHL “more balanced” in terms of having an even 16 teams in each Conference. Bettman also mentioned rivalries with teams out West like the Vancouver Canucks, just a few hours across the Canadian border from Seattle.

The ownership group is headed by “a private equity CEO” named David Bonderman. The group will pay $650 million in expansion fees, which Dan Rosen of NHL.com pointed out is $150 million more than Bill Foley’s group paid for the Vegas Golden Knights to join the NHL two years ago.

Bonderman told Rosen that he “went to school [in Seattle]” and went to the University of Washington, where he graduated. He said that he “worked on the Space Needle in 1962” so he has roots in the Pacific Northwest city.

The arena situation is unique, as they will not be playing in a totally brand new building, but rather an existing building that is being completely renovated from the ground up. The skeleton of the KeyArena will remain, but the group will be essentially creating a whole new arena from that. Ground will be broken on the renovation, a privately financed endeavor that will cost $800 million and eventually seat 17,400 for hockey, tomorrow according to the group’s CEO Tod Leiweke. Rosen’s article said that “(t)he renovation was awaiting NHL approval of the expansion team before it could begin.”

The arena was formerly home to the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA prior to them relocating and becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09. Rosen said that the group was hoping to begin play in 2020-21 but settled for 2021-22 because it will allow the renovations at (what is now being known as) the Seattle Center Arena to be fully completed. They are also having a training center built.

As for the construction of the team itself, Leiweke and Bettman told Rosen that the expansion draft will take place in June 2021 at the Seattle Center Arena and the rules will be the same as what Vegas got in June of 2017, so start placing bets now on Seattle to win the Western Conference in 2022. In additon, Rosen said that “the Golden Knights will be exempt from exposing players for the draft” likely due to them only having played four full NHL seasons come the time of Seattle’s expansion draft.

Rosen’s article said that the arena will “likely open in March or April 2021 with concerts” according to Leiweke. The first major tenent of the arena will be the Seattle Storm of the WNBA, who will play there in the summer of 2021.

As for what the team will be called? Leiweke told Rosen that “the ownership group will use the extra time it has to do its due diligence before it announces a team name.” Seattle has been host to numerous minor league and junior hockey teams and the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association became the first American franchise to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. They won before the NHL had exclusive control over the Cup and teams still challenged for it.

A few other teams to call Seatlle home over the last century have been the Totems of the professional PCHL, WHL and CHL. They operated from 1944 to 1975 and went by different names, including Ironmen, Bombers and Americans before settling on Totems in 1958. Junior teams to play in Seattle include the Breakers (who our very own Ken Daneyko played for) in the Western Hockey League and the current Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

Another factor mentioned in the Rosen article for why the expansion team was placed in Seattle was the rivalry with Vancouver. Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini has been adamant that a team in Seattle would be “impactful” for both the Canucks and the region. He told Rosen “Seattle is a great sports city and we can’t wait to ignite a true regional rivalry west of the Rockies for Canucks fans. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

After Seattle applied for a place in the NHL last year at the NHL Board of Governors meeting, a season ticket drive was held beginning on March 1, they had 10,000 deposits in the first 12 minutes alone. They had 32,000 within the first 31 hours and Rosen said that “(t)here is a waiting list with approximately 10,000 names on it.”

Shero Speaks on Kovalchuk Situation

It has been a while since my last update here, but such is life during the offseason. Earlier today, on NHL.com, Mike Morreale published an article that I thought was interesting. It set the record straight on just what is going on with Ilya Kovalchuk and his National Hockey League return.

Devils general manager Ray Shero told Morreale that “Kovalchuk kind of drives the bus on this in terms of talking to teams or where he could want to play.” Shero said that, while he could change his mind, “Right now nothing, according to [Grossman], has changed and he would like to pursue [NHL] opportunities.” Grossman is, of course, Kovalchuk’s agent Jay Grossman, who Shero told Morreale he spoke to this past Wednesday.

The interesting thing to take away from Morreale’s article is that Kovalchuk needs permission from all 31 NHL teams if he wants to return before his 35th birthday and sign anywhere he wanted to, since he was put on the voluntarily retired list when he retired from the NHL on July 11, 2013. He signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg on July 15, 2013 in one of the more shocking moves of players between the NHL and KHL.

Kovalchuk turns 35 on April 15, 2018 according to Morreale. Until then, the Devils would own his NHL rights and would have to sign him and either trade him or keep him. Morreale also stresses that Kovalchuk cannot sign with the Devils until July 1 and is not eligible for the Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Shero told him that a sign-and-trade “has to make sense for the Devils.”

Shero told Morreale that while he assumes Kovalchuk’s NHL return to still be the plan, he “is not holding his breath waiting for him to make a decision.

So, at the moment, Kovalchuk seems ready to return from Russia, but that could change at any moment. Also, he may or may not end up a member of the Devils. Stay tuned as we will see where this is headed come July 1.

In other news closer to home, today’s edition of The Coast Star, a local weekly Jersey Shore newspaper, had an article written by George Woolston that said that Ken Daneyko and mascot NJ Devil will be appearing locally to sign autographs and meet fans for a good cause. The meet and greet will happen at Trinity Financial Sports and Entertainment Management Company in Spring Lake on Saturday, June 10 from 2 PM to 4 PM.

The person they are helping is Chris J. Nolze of Toms River. Mr. Nolze was diagnosed with brain cancer five years ago and has also battled a brain tumor, trigeminal neuralgia and dystonia. According to Woolston’s article, Chris has undergone many operations and people have been very generous with and towards him during these trying times. In turn, he wanted to give back by starting the Chris’s Fight For a Cure Foundation. Woolston said that this foundation strives to “conquer illness and support those in need.”

The foundation awards a $100 scholarship each year “to an eighth grader at Toms River Intermediate South School.”

Trinity Financial will be selling sports memorabilia at the event in order to raise money for Chris and his medical bills. The event will be free to the public. According to the newspaper article, the first 100 fans in attendance will receive a free Ken Daneyko photo.

This is a really good event and the kind that the Devils continue to be involved with. It is wonderful to see alumni and current players get involved with the charitable end of being a pro hockey player and really give back to the community here in New Jersey. If you are in the area and can make it, it is June 10 (a Saturday) from 2 PM to 4 PM at Trinity Financial Sports and Entertainment Management Company at 219 Morris Avenue in Spring Lake.

Prout Suspended, Devils to Play Preseason Game in PEI

According to the NHL Department of Player Safety, Dalton Prout was suspended two games and fined $38,414.04 for his hit on Radko Gudas on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. That was the play he received a five minute major for interference and a game misconduct.

The NHL’s official site has the play occurring at the 7:59 mark of the second period. The site also said that “Prout is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement” and the fine was based on his annual salary. The money will go into the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

In more upbeat news, the Devils will play this fall in a special preseason game in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island against the Ottawa Senators. O’Leary was chosen as the winner in Kraft Hockeyville Canada (there is also a US version of the contest). The town was chosen from “nearly 3,000 nominations from communities across Canada.” This is the eleventh year the contest has been held, the fourth time the Senators will participate and the first time the Devils will skate in one.

The winning town as announced last Saturday by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Hockey Night in Canada and the press release on NHL.com mentioned that this is the first time the province of Prince Edward Island will host the event. The teams will visit the community, as will NHL alumni and NHL officials, there will be hockey clinics given, fans will be able to watch the morning skate and the Stanley Cup will also be there. The events will culminate with the NHL preseason game between the Devils and the Senators.

Laurie Kepron, NHL Group Vice President, Integrated Marketing said that “given the East Coast ties of both clubs, this promises to be a special event for fans in O’Leary and across PEI, as well as for our teams and League.”

In addition to all of this, O’Leary will also be given money towards local rink repairs and upgrades all as a way “to support grassroots hockey in Canada.”

The game will be played on September 25, 2017 and while it might not be a Winter Classic or any of the outdoor games the NHL doles out, it is still a very nice way for the Devils to give back to the community in a unique way.

Finally, the NHL announced today that they will not be sending players to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

One of the reasons cited in an article on NHL.com by Dan Rosen was that the league shuts down at a very inopportune time when it sends players to the Winter Olympics. The NFL season has ended and Major League Baseball is still a month or so from starting again, so the NHL shuts down at a time when they could theoretically be getting the most eyeballs on their product.

According to Rosen, the “NHL conducted polls in both Canada and the United States to determine if fans were in favor of the League taking a break in February to allow players to compete in the Olympics.” The results were 73 percent against in the US and 53 percent against in Canada.

Rosen’s article said that since 1998, when the first NHL players went to the Nagano Olympics in Japan, about 700 players have participated (an average, he said, of 141 per season). The International Olympic Committee payed the NHL’s way in their participation (travel, insurance and accommodations for players and their guests according to Rosen) but declined to pay for the 2018 Games.

As Rosen said, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman felt that the money used to send the players to the Olympics could “otherwise be used to help grow the game” of hockey “at the grassroots level.”

There was also the possibility of injury in a condensed schedule with the Olympic break. Rosen said that injuries have impacted the results of the playoffs in years when NHL players go to the Olympics. Also, fatigue as teams with more players participating in the Olympics generally do not fare as well in the Stanley Cup tournament.

The NHLPA disagreed with the NHL’s move, feeling that with the next two Winter Olympics being played in Asia, the league is missing a good opportunity to grow the game internationally. Rosen said that the NHLPA called the lack of participation in the Games by the NHL “shortsighted.”

My feeling is that while most of the players do like representing their countries in the Olympics, I can certainly see things from Bettman and the NHL’s point of view. The league ends up missing out when they take two weeks off right in the middle of the season.

People are still watching hockey when they watch their country play in the Olympics, but they are not watching NHL hockey, which makes a difference to the teams and their bottom lines. Shutting down for two weeks in February is not a good business decision. Also, Rosen’s points about teams sending fewer players to the Games and faring better in the playoffs is definitely a very valid argument against going.

Likewise, the NHLPA’s point about growing the sport with participation in the Olympics makes sense too. We can see it both ways, but the point is moot. The NHL is not going to the Olympics next year.

Metro Division Reigns Supreme in All-Star Game

In a game known for lots of goal scoring, the Metropolitan Division was able to pull out a victory in the NHL All-Star mini tournament with a low-scoring, almost defensive affair buoyed by goaltending.

The festivities began with introductions of the NHL’s 100 greatest players – who were named in a ceremony on Friday in LA – and the current All-Stars. As each modern All-Star was introduced, they would skate by the line of legends and fist bump each one. The ceremonial puck drop then featured each of the greatest players dropping a puck to a current All-Star, less a faceoff and more just a puck drop and a cool moment for each of the current NHL All-Stars. The mini tournament then began: two semifinal games of two ten minute “halves” and then a final in the third period also consisting of two ten minute periods

The Pacific Division started things off with a 10-3 win over the Central Division. Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks scored the first goal of the game (off assists from Salem, New Jersey’s Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary and Bo Horvat of Vancouver). From there it was just a torrent of Pacific Division goals. Every Pacific Division skater had a least one goal.  Gaudreau led the team with two goals and tied with Fowler and Horvat in points with three for this game. The Central got goals from Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Nashville’s PK Subban. The Pacific had 22 shots on goal to the Central’s 12.

In the second game, the winners of yesterday’s Skills Competition, the Atlantic Division, chose to play the Metro in the later game. It turned out to be a bad decision for them, as the Metro Division piled on the goals, winning 10-6. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson (a late-minute replacement for Pittsburgh’s injured Evgeni Malkin) led the team with four points (two goals and two assists) and Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds had two goals in the game. He had good chemistry with the Devils’ Taylor Hall, who assisted on Columbus’ Seth Jones’ goal at 1:45 of the second half of the mini game and had an unassisted goal five seconds later when he chipped the puck by the Atlantic center off the faceoff and skated by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who had come out of his crease to put the puck into an empty net. The Atlantics outshot the Metros 25-21, but the Metro Division was moving on to the finals to face the Pacific Division. The Atlantic Division’s leading scorers were Florida’s Vincent Trocheck (one goal, three assists for four points) and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (two goals, two assists for four points).

In the final, goaltending stole the show. The Metro’s Braden Holtby (Washington) and Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus) and the Pacific’s Martin Jones (San Jose) and Mike Smith (Arizona) were on top for most of the game, standing on their heads at times. But the Metropolitan Division won on the strength of goals by Atkinson, Seth Jones and Justin Faulk of Carolina. Wayne Gretzky – who was filling in for John Tortarella, who had a family emergency and could not be there – actually used his coach’s challenge on a goal by the Pacific where he alleged that Connor McDavid was offside on the play. The Great One was right and the goal was disallowed – a rare occurrence in the All-Star Game to be sure. The Metro would capitalize on that, winning the game 4-3. Pacific coach Pete DeBoer actually pulled goalie Mike Smith but it was to no avail. The Pacific had gotten goals from Horvat and McDavid as well as San Jose’s Joe Pavelski. The Metro Division outshot the Pacific 18-17 in the final.

The Metropolitan Division were the winners of the All-Star tournament, defeating the defending champion Pacific Division and claiming the $1 million prize money. Wayne Simmonds was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

It was a good tournament, giving fans a little taste of everything. From the high scoring of the Pacific versus Central game and the Metro versus Atlantic game to the low-scoring, almost defensive contest between the Metro and the Pacific in the final, there was something for all fans. Taylor Hall had a good game, finishing with two points, a highlight reel goal and helping to prove that there can be (at the least) cordial relations between a Devil and a Flyer.

Los Angeles also put on the kind of show that you would expect from Hollywood. Good job by the Kings on the entire weekend, which also included a replica of Stan Mikita’s fictional donut shop from the movie Wayne’s World outside of the Staples Center. It was a fun show put on the All-Star players and the Kings made it that much more of a great weekend for the NHL.

Three Devils Among NHL’s 100 Greatest Players

Last night, the National Hockey League celebrated part of their centennial celebration at the NHL All-Star Weekend festivities by naming the 100 greatest players in league history. Among those names were three players very closely associated with the New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.

Brodeur is probably the player mostly associated with New Jersey on this list. He played from 1992 to 2014 with the Devils after having been drafted by the Devils in 1990. He finished his career in St. Louis with the Blues, where he currently serves as Assistant General Manager. In his time with the Devils, he backstopped the team to three Stanley Cups and five Stanley Cup Finals appearances. He is the NHL leader in wins (691) and shutouts (125). He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie four times.

Stevens captained the Devils to their three Stanley Cup championships and was a punishing force on the blue line for 13 years with the Devils (he also played eight years with the Washington Capitals and one year with the St. Louis Blues). Although he never won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman, he was named the 2000 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is also ranked 13th all-time in the NHL with a career plus-393 plus/minus rating. He is currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.

Niedermayer, although drafted by the Devils in 1991 and playing the bulk of his 18-year career with the Devils (13 years with New Jersey), will probably be identified best with the Devils and another team. He played five years with the Anaheim Ducks, where he captained them to a Stanley Cup in 2007. But he was also a member of all three of the Devils Stanley Cup wins. A winner at every level – he won the Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers and an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada to go along with those four Stanley Cups – he was also the winner of the Norris Trophy in 2004 with the Devils and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2007 with Anaheim. Known for his blazing speed and elegant skating ability, he will perhaps best be known amongst Devils fans for his end-to-end goal in game two of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit. He currently serves as a coach on the Anaheim Ducks’ staff.

In addition to those three players best known as Devils, four other players who played with the organization were named to the list: Peter Stastny, Brendan Shanahan, Joe Nieuwendyk and Jaromir Jagr (who is still active with the Florida Panthers). Also on the list (as players) were former Stanley Cup-winning Devils coaches Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson.

Congratulations to these players and all of the other players who made the NHL’s 100 greatest list.

In other All-Star news, players have been assigned to the Skills Competition events and Devils representative Taylor Hall will be skating as the third shooter representing the Metropolitan Division in the Honda NHL Four Line Challenge. He will be taking two shots from the far blue line and will try to score in one of the four corners of the net or the five hole. He will be shooting with Vincent Trocheck (Florida Panthers – Atlantic Division), PK Subban (Nashville Predators – Central Divison) and Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks – Pacific Division). Other Metro Division shooters in this event are Ryan McDonagh (first shooter, New York Rangers), Wayne Simmonds (second shooter, Philadelphia Flyers) and Seth Jones (fourth shooter, Columbus Blue Jackets).

NHL Announces Plans for Centennial Anniversary Celebrations

The National Hockey League turns 100 years old in 2017 and will be celebrating throughout those entire twelve months. The league announced their plans today which include Wayne Gretzky serving as “official ambassador” for the celebrations, an interactive truck exhibit tour to all NHL markets and “dozens of other local hockey communities,” the selection of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history and the commemorations of the founding of the league, the first games played and the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup.

The celebrations will kick off on January 1, 2017 with the NHL Centennial Classic (an outdoor game, of course) at Toronto’s BMO Field between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. It will continue through the NHL All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles (January 27-29), the NHL Winter Classic in St. Louis (January 2), the NHL Stadium Series in Pittsburgh (February 25), the NHL Awards in Las Vegas (June 2017) and the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in Chicago (June 23-24).

In addition to that, the NHL will participate in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on January 2 and will celebrate the Stanley Cup’s 125th Anniversary in Ottawa on March 15-18, the 100th anniversary founding of the league on November 26 in Montreal and the 100th anniversary of the first games played on December 19 in Ottawa (Ottawa was the site of the first game in NHL history: a 7-4 Montreal Canadiens victory over the Ottawa Senators).

The truck tour will feature a “53-foot museum truck that includes an interactive interior with original video content, exclusive memorabilia, and fan activations.” There will also be “a second 53-foot trailer with giant video screen for viewing parties and stage for player and alumni appearances.” In addition it will feature “a pop-up synthetic rink for youth hockey games and clinics.” The tour launches at the Centennial Classic on January 1.

The Tournament of Roses Parade will feature a float commemorating the NHL’s 100th and the Los Angeles Kings’ 50th anniversaries. NBC will cover the parade as a lead-in to the Winter Classic outdoor game between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

The NHL will also announce the 100 Greatest Players in NHL History at a gala in Los Angeles in January at the All-Star festivities. “A blue ribbon panel of distinguished members from across the hockey community – including former and current executives, media members, and NHL alumni” will vote for the 100 Greatest Players in NHL History. The first group of players will be announced at the Centennial Classic and they will include the 100 greatest players from the pre-expansion years (1917 to 1966). The press release says that “the remaining players will be unveiled at a special ceremony in Los Angeles during NHL All-Star weekend” which would lead me to believe that there are going to actually be 200 players on this list (100 pre-expansion and 100 post-expansion). We will see how that all shakes down.

The Stanley Cup celebrations will commemorate the 125th anniversary of Lord Stanley of Preston donating the Stanley Cup in 1893. These celebrations will take place in Ottawa in connection with Canada’s 150th celebrations (Canada will be celebrating 150 years of confederation in 2017).

There will also be two documentaries released during the celebrations. One will release in March during the Stanley Cup celebrations in Ottawa and will focus on the iconic trophy’s 125 years. Then, in November 2017, the NHL will release a documentary “covering the key moments and milestones in the League’s 100-year history.”

There will also be 100 Iconic NHL Moments unveiled throughout the Fall of 2017. These will include the greatest “goals, games, the odd and unusual, and seminal events in history.” In addition, the NHL will create a time capsule. Each day throughout the 2017 calendar year, the NHL will share milestones from the league’s 100 years “with fans across all platforms – online, broadcast, and social – with original stories and videos.”

There will be further information on some of these events and celebrations released at a later date.

Scott Gomez Retires After 16 NHL Seasons

Scott Gomez won two Stanley Cups with the Devils, including one in his rookie year of 2000 (in which he also received the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year). He turned 20 that season. Now, at the age of 36, he is calling it a career.

The five-foot, eleven-inch, 200-pound centerman from Anchorage, Alaska, widely regarded as the best player to come out of that state (he even played for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces during the 2005 NHL lockout), was drafted by the Devils 27th overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. He spent two stints with the Devils, from 1999-2000 to 2006-07 and another season in 2014-15.

In between, he signed a big money free agent contract with the Rangers in 2007, alienating many Devils fans in the process, did not find success there, was traded to the Canadiens after two years, spent three seasons in a Montreal uniform and then essentially bounced around the league. He spent parts of seasons with the Sharks, Panthers, Blues and Senators. He finished the 2015-16 season playing in 13 games for Ottawa, notching one assist.

He never quite produced outside of the Devils’ system of that time, but he was still a great presence in the locker room for many teams, as many players have attested to his humor and ability to keep a room loose. He was a good veteran leader in his later seasons, helping teams like the Florida Panthers, who were very youth-oriented during his time there.

In addition to his NHL career, he represented the United States in the 2006 Olympics, as well as the 2005 World Cup of Hockey and the 1998 and 1999 World Junior Championship.

He played in two NHL All-Star Games (2000 and 2008) and was named to the 1999-2000 NHL All-Rookie Team.

He finishes his career with 181 goals and 575 assists for 756 points in 1,079 games. He also racked up 132 penalty minutes. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, he played in 149 games, scoring 29 goals and 72 assists for 101 points and 95 penalty minutes. He won Cups in 2000 and 2003 with the Devils. The closest he would come to another Cup was 2010 when the Canadiens lost in the Eastern Conference Final to the Flyers.

Gomez has done some broadcasting work – which includes an infamous guest spot on a mid-day soap opera in the early 2000’s – and will likely pursue that route if he is to stay in the game, as he is one of the more charismatic players out there.

No matter what he does though, good luck to one of the bigger Devils stars of the early to mid-00’s. Retirement can be tough on a professional athlete, as he told sports writer Doyle Woody in an article in his hometown Alaska Dispatch News, “(T)his has been my life, It’s so weird to think I’m never going to play hockey again.”

Bettman: NHL Jersey Ads Not on “Front-Burner”

Following a report by Chris Creamer of SportsLogos.net, it seems that hockey fans who do not want to see ads on their team’s jerseys can breathe easy right now.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, according to the report, told The Canadian Press that “you’re going to have to drag us kicking and screaming” into putting advertisements on NHL in-game jerseys.

Teams currently do have sponsors on their practice jerseys. The Devils sport a RWJ-Barnabas Health patch on their practice jerseys. RWJ-Barnabas Health also owns the naming rights to their practice facility adjacent to the Prudential Center, as well.

Although September’s World Cup of Hockey will feature an SAP patch (SAP is an official NHL partner, working with them on stats tracking and on the NHL website) on the shoulder of each of the participating team’s sweaters, and the World Cup is being organized by the NHL and the NHLPA, it would seem that the league is sincere in their stance. Bettman said that “It’s far, far, far from the front-burner.”

The National Basketball Association was the first of the four major professional North American sports leagues to approve in-game ads on team jerseys earlier this year. The Philadelphia 76ers, who are owned by the same ownership group that runs the Devils, will wear a StubHub patch on their game jerseys for the 2016-17 season, becoming the first team in the big four to do so. Other NBA teams are likely to follow.

But Bettman reassured fans by saying “Obviously the NBA went first. And it would take a huge incentive for us to even consider it.”

We will see where this goes, but for the meantime, fans can relax, safe in the knowledge that word on this came directly from the commissioner himself.

Opinion: “Non Traditional Market” Expansion Pays Off in Long Run

With the National Hockey League’s announcement last week that the Board of Governors had voted to expand the league into Las Vegas, Nevada, there was some of the predictable chatter about “non traditional hockey markets.” The hand wringing and disparaging remarks were even greater since the NHL had seemingly shunned a “traditional market” in Quebec City in giving the 31st franchise to Las Vegas.

However, as yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft illustrated to a point, putting teams in the “non traditional” markets and expanding the reach of the sport has already begun to pay off.

Another issue that comes up during discussions of expansion is how the talent pool will be “watered down” and you will have less talented players playing on NHL rosters.

Yesterday’s Draft also has seemingly put that argument to rest.

What yesterday’s Draft showed, with Auston Matthews of Scottsdale, Arizona (who grew up a Coyotes fan), being selected first overall, is that by putting franchises in places that normally would not have major league hockey, you open up the game by making new fans. Those new fans take their children to the game. Those children then fall in love with the game of hockey and bug their parents to let them try it. Maybe one of those kids is a one-in-a-million athlete, as Auston Matthews is. The next thing you know, he is being drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, hailed as the savior of that moribund franchise.

Would Toronto have gotten their latest savior had the NHL not taken the risk of putting a team in Arizona? The answer to that is a little bit more complicated than just a simple “no.” Yes, they would have gotten someone (likely from the “traditional” hotbeds of Canada, Minnesota, Michigan, New England or Europe) but the fact remains that Matthews’ rise shows just what the power of wading into uncharted waters can do for the NHL.

When you put a team in an area, kids latch on to them. The 2016 Draft saw a record number of Americans go in the first round (twelve of the 30 picks were American born). Now, some were the sons of former Canadian NHLers who were born in the US while their fathers were plying their trade. Players such as Kieffer Bellows (picked 19th overall by the Islanders) whose father, Brian, is from St. Catherines, Ontario; Kieffer was born in Minnesota.

But for every player in that category, you had an Andrew Peeke (taken in the 2nd round, 34th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Peeke is from Parkland, Florida and grew up a Panthers fan. Like Auston Matthews, he is a player from a “non traditional” market who grew up a fan of a team in that area.

The Devils even made a deal for a player who was born in California, in Beau Bennett, yesterday.

Although a record number of Americans were drafted yesterday, it is not like Canada was neglected. The best players in the world are still arguably produced north of the border. The only thing that is happening is that players are beginning to have to strive and compete even harder to get the spots that, in the past, would have been basically guaranteed them.

Once you open up a market like, say, Dallas, you begin to see kids taking up the sport who would not have before the NHL team arrived and begin to play at an elite level. Suddenly, within a generation or two, you begin to see players from the Nashvilles and Arizonas compete with Canadian kids for spots in the NHL.

And that begins to alleviate part two of the argument against expansion: too many teams will water down the league. Maybe, but water finds its own level and with more teams in new places getting new kids in those places to play hockey, they are going to give you more water in the talent pool to draw from.

In the past, prior to the Draft, teams like Montreal had the inside track on all of the best players in Quebec, which gave them a marked strategic advantage on the other clubs in the league. Now players from everywhere are available to any team in the NHL and that opens up great possibilities. Who would have guessed that a kid from the Arizona desert would essentially come to “save” the staid and tradition-bound Toronto Maple Leafs?

The NHL is a great product. It is the best hockey league in the world and it deserves to be seen by as many people in as many places as possible. Part of what makes hockey so inspiring is that when a kid sees it live, they will inevitably want to try it because it looks so cool. In the case of Auston Matthews, he was a great athlete inspired to play hockey because his parents took him to a Coyotes game. Without the Coyotes, Matthews would likely have ended up playing another sport (and considering what a good athlete he is said to be, that would be the gain of the NFL or MLB and not the NHL).

Granted, Arizona is not going to immediately supplant Alberta as a hockey hotbed simply because of one success story, but now young hockey players in Arizona have someone to look up to, one of their own is skating in the NHL. This, in turn, creates interest and more players in the future. It is self-sustaining. Where will the next success story come from? Could it be Las Vegas next?

And I am in no way advocating that the NHL neglect Canada. Canada is where the sport was invented and Canadian players are the lifeblood of the league. Denying Canada NHL hockey would be just as ridiculous as not allowing new markets to gain access to it. The further the reach of the sport, the better off the sport will be.

From a personal standpoint, that is huge. Growing up playing hockey, having Jim Dowd, a local hockey player who “made it” and was playing for my team, the Devils, was a real boost to a younger me. Now, obviously I did not make it to the NHL, but that is more due to a lack of skill and athleticism on my part. The main point is that I had someone to look up to. A role model who was from New Jersey and playing in “the Show.” I had the role model, but not the skill. More than a few kids in Arizona will now have the role model and the skill to make it to the NHL.

How far we have come that even forty years ago, it would have been crazy for an American to go first overall in the Draft. This year we had an American from Arizona go number one overall.

How things change. And a good deal of that change has come due to the opening up of markets that previously did not have NHL hockey and never would have had it would the NHL have listened to some of its harshest critics.

NHL Board of Governors Approves Las Vegas Franchise

The NHL made the rumors of a 31st franchise in the Nevada desert a reality today. In an announcement ahead of the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, commissioner Gary Bettman made it official: Las Vegas will be joining the NHL in 2017-18.

At a press conference at the ballroom of the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, Bettman announced that the league will be the first of the four major North American sports leagues to put a team in Vegas. The Board of Governors approved the expansion in a vote during their meetings early Wednesday.

The NHL will receive a $500 million expansion fee which “will be distributed equally among the existing 30 franchises” according to an article by Dan Rosen on NHL.com.

Rosen’s article also noted that the Board of Governors “voted to defer the application for an expansion team from Quebecor Inc., which maintains the goal of bringing NHL hockey back to Quebec City.” He says that the league still sees Quebec as an option for a future NHL franchise. However, as pointed out in the last post I made about the subject, there were three factors keeping Quebec from getting a team right away: the NHL’s geographic imbalance, “the difficulty of bringing two new teams in at the same time,” and the struggle of the Canadian dollar (which, as Rosen notes “was trading at 78 cents on the US dollar on Tuesday”).

As noted, Bill Foley’s Las Vegas team will play in the brand new T-Mobile Arena, which Rosen says is located  “just west” of the Las Vegas Strip. It has a hockey capacity of 17,368. The as yet unnamed team (although owner Foley has expressed an interest in the name “Black Knights” as a tribute to West Point athletics, his alma mater) will play in the Pacific Division when they come into the league.

There have been 14,000 season ticket deposits made and all of the luxury suites have been sold “since Foley launched a season ticket drive 16 months ago” according to Rosen.

With all of this comes the task of building the Las Vegas team and there will be an expansion draft set for next summer.

The rules will see the Las Vegas team select one player from each of the current NHL teams equaling out to 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Rosen notes that “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 contracts it takes on must be at least 60 percent of the 2016-17 season salary-cap limit, which is $73 million.”

The Vegas team cannot buy out of any of these contracts until summer 2018.

As for protecting players, the 30 existing clubs can “protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and one goalie.”

Other notes from Rosen include: a player with a “no movement” clause in their contract at the time of the expansion draft “must be protected and will count towards their team’s protection limits unless the player agrees to waive his no-movement clause.” Teams must submit their protection lists by 5 PM ET on June 17, 2017. Las Vegas will submit their picks by 5 PM ET on June 20. Results will become public on June 21, 2017.

Furthermore, all skaters “exposed for the draft must be under contract for the 2017-18 season. Teams must expose a minimum of one defenseman and two forwards who played 40 or more games in 2016-17 season or 70 or more games in the previous two seasons.” Goalies also have to be under contract for 2017-18 or be scheduled to become a restricted free agent in summer 2017. Rosen notes: “In order to expose a goalie entering RFA status, the team must extend him his qualifying offer before submitting its protection list.”

First and second year pros will not be a part of the expansion draft and will not need to be protected by their teams.

As for the NHL Entry Draft in 2017, Vegas will go into the “Draft Lottery with the same odds as the team that finishes with the third fewest points in the 2016-17 season.” It will pick no lower than number six and will own the third pick in each round thereafter.

That is a lot to digest, but either way, welcome to the Las Vegas NHL entry!