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!

Multiple Sources State NHL Expansion to Las Vegas Likely

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!