LAS VEGAS —The NHL is betting big on Las Vegas.
The league’s Board of Governors and commissioner Gary Bettman made it official on Wednesday that the NHL will expand to Las Vegas, with the league’s 31st team beginning play in the 2017-18 season. It was a unanimous decision. An expansion draft will be held next summer, during which each team will lose one player. The new team will make its selections on June 20, 2017, and the picks will be announced the following day.
The NHL becomes the first of the major pro sports leagues to put a team in Las Vegas.
“It’ll be an exciting place to come and play,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. “I think with expansion in the first place, it’s obviously good for the league, good for players — get more jobs, get more players in the league, and at the same time produce more revenue. I think Vegas would be a great venue. I’m sure they’ll probably have a pretty good home record. But at the same time, it’ll be fun for a lot of us to visit and play somewhere different, too. I don’t think you ever envision playing hockey in a place like this.”
The league deferred a decision on Quebec City, which also applied for expansion. Bettman cited the struggling Canadian dollar and the geographic imbalance of the league (with Las Vegas, there are 15 teams in the Western Conference and 16 in the Eastern Conference) as reasons to delay the decision, and there is no timetable to revisit Quebec City’s bid or potentially add a 32nd team to balance out the conferences.
Las Vegas owner Bill Foley will pay a $500-million expansion fee. The last time new teams entered the league, in 2000, the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets paid $80 million.
Players in town for Wednesday’s NHL Awards show shrugged off any concerns about players falling victim to the Vegas nightlife the night before games.
“I don’t think so,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. “We’re all adults, we’re all professionals. If we’re coming into this city obviously it’s an exciting city to come into, but we’re coming in here to do a job.”
Said Islanders captain John Tavares: “Obviously, there can be a lot of distractions coming here. Teams are going to find the best way to handle those things and stay focused on playing the game. Speaking for myself, when you go play, you take it very seriously. You want to be as best prepared as you can be, so you want to take care of yourself. There’s time to be with your teammates and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that. No question, as players you want to be smart with the situations you’re in, and obviously that emphasis is probably [stronger] in a place like Las Vegas.”