NHL to Las Vegas may be “a done deal” but is that a good thing?

Las Vegas skyline (Lorin May)

Let’s be honest, you could see this coming the moment the NHL approved its most recent version of conference and division realignment. The Western Conference was curiously two teams lighter than the East.

It was assumed then that the league would expand from 30 to 32 teams and that the emphasis of said expansion would be on the west coast. Often talked about cities included Seattle, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri.

Both markets have had major league hockey before. Seattle was the first US city to win the Stanley Cup (Seattle Metropolitans, 1917) and Kansas City had the Scouts (1974-1976) which, ultimately, turned into the New Jersey Devils. A franchise in Seattle would help create a Pacific Ocean rivalry with clubs like San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vancouver and, more importantly, help balance out the severely tilted time zone scale. A franchise in Kansas City would give the relatively new Sprint Center a main tenant and give St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas someone else to play in their proverbial backyard.

Instead, an entirely different city has come to the forefront. One that would still help balance out the Pacific time zone and one that would still be its building’s main tenant but also one that poses a whole separate set of interesting challenges.

Las Vegas, Nevada.

An overwhelmingly tourist-driven town, the franchise in Sin City would have very little problem collecting corporate sponsors for its dasher boards and promotions but it may have a problem collecting a season ticket holder base.

Then there’s the gambling aspect. There’s a reason the four major sports leagues have stayed away from Vegas. It’s the sports betting capital of the world and there’s a predominant fear of what that could mean for the integrity of the sport.

Las Vegas is no stranger to professional hockey, however. From 1993 to 1999 they hosted the Thunder of the IHL, they’ve hosted the ECHL’s Wrangler’s since then, the very first outdoor game was actually held there when the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played a pre-season tilt in the Caesar’s Palace parking lot in 1991 and, of course, the NHL Awards have been held there recently at The Palms and The Wynn, respectively.

Another market tied to expansion rumors is Quebec City. Hockey in Canada is an easy sell, certainly, but one has to wonder how thrilled the NHL would be to put a franchise back in a city that previously lost one. Along with the Minnesota Wild in 2000 (the North Stars left in 1993) and the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in 2011 (the original Jets left in 1996), Quebec would become the third such market to lose a franchise only to re-gain one within just 20 years (the Nordiques left in 1995). With three lockouts since 1995 including one that wiped out an entire season — the first of the professional sports to do that — would putting a team back in Quebec only further the notion that Commissioner Gary Bettman’s reign has been an era of instability?

Two teams out on the Western side of North America make the most sense when it comes to balancing out the league’s geography. One team in either Vegas or Seattle and then another in either Kansas City or Quebec makes the most sense when it comes to balancing out the West’s divisions. As a result, if Sin City is a “done deal” then it should be either Kansas City or Quebec.

Sorry Seattle.


PHOTO CREDIT: Lorin May (used with permission)

One Comment

  1. ron

    August 30, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I see a team like Florida moving to Quebec, ( would personally hate to see that ) then Seattle and Vegas as expansion teams. I lived in vegas for 4 years and there are alot of transplanted fans there as well as military (nellis a.f.b.), but it is very transient by nature…..As far as season ticket base in Vegas they could pull in decent numbers but the casinos would hold the keys, only as long as all the casinos offered tickets as employment perks along with comps. Just my 2 cents worth.

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