According to sources such as ESPN, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, the NHL’s expansion to Las Vegas seems all but complete. The official announcement is supposed to come on June 22 prior to the Draft in Buffalo.
The team (which owner William Foley, according to SportsLogos.net, seems to be leaning towards naming the Black Knights – after his alma mater, the US Military Academy at West Point) would begin play in 2017-18.
The team has obviously not begun play, but has been a success thus far, with about 14,000 season tickets sold sight unseen according to the ESPN article on the matter. Those season ticket deposits should go a long way in helping to pay the $500 million expansion fee, a number that also comes from the ESPN article. The team will play in the newly built T-Mobile Arena.
This would be the first time the NHL has expanded since the 2000-01 season, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league.
As SportsLogos.net pointed out, the 17 years between the last NHL expansion and Las Vegas joining the league is the longest the NHL has gone between expansions since the 1967-68 expansion that doubled the size of the league. Before the Flyers, Kings, Penguins, North Stars, Blues and Seals joined the NHL, the last expansion was in 1926 and added the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Rangers.
The inclusion of a Las Vegas franchise would cause an imbalance in the league, with 31 teams. But it is not like that is a problem. The NHL played with 21 teams from 1979 to 1991 (from the WHA-NHL merger that brought the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and the original Winnipeg Jets to the league to the 1991 expansion that brought in the Sharks – the 22nd NHL franchise).
A Las Vegas franchise would obviously play in the Western Conference, which currently has two fewer teams than the East.
Some sources have speculated that with the pending announcement of a Vegas club joining the NHL, this puts Quebec City’s bid for the Nordiques to return to rest. However, they have pointed out that the NHL could be keeping Quebec open for possible franchise relocation in the future; with another possible expansion team to join in Seattle (should that city get their arena situation sorted out). This would keep the amount of teams in the East stable while adding two more in the West, making things completely balanced with an even number of teams.
Aside from the Conference imbalance, Quebec City also had to deal with the flagging Canadian dollar, as revenue is collected in Canadian dollars for Canadian teams, but salaries are paid in US dollars for all teams.
An NHL franchise in Vegas also marks the first major professional “Big 4” team in the gambling capital. With this, the NHL gets the prestige of being the first major league to put a team in the Nevada city, even as rumors continue to circulate that the NFL’s Oakland Raiders are thinking about relocation to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas has had minor pro hockey in the past, including both the old International Hockey League (the Las Vegas Thunder) and the ECHL (the Las Vegas Wranglers).
Hopefully the NHL works out in Sin City. We will see what happens on June 22. Good luck to Las Vegas!