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Chase Little

Vegas heat brings cold prospects for the NHL

By Stephane Arnault, March 12 2015 —

Once again the National Hockey League’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, is talking expansion. He reportedly wants to add two more teams to the league’s already bloated list of 30.

Why expand? There are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West — an imbalance Bettman wants to fix.

What really bugs me is that recent reports have indicated that Las Vegas is inching closer to landing one of those NHL expansion teams.

The effort is being spearheaded by Bill Foley, a businessman reported to be worth over $600 million. The group of prospective buyers is being advised by Wayne Gretzky, who was a part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes before it went bankrupt.

Back in December, the NHL gave Foley the green light to conduct a season-ticket drive to determine if Las Vegas can support a hockey team. At this point, Foley has received over 8,000 deposits from people interested in purchasing season tickets. He hopes to reach 10,000 by the end of March.

On top of that, the state-of-the-art 20,000 seat MGM–AEG arena is under construction in the heart of the Vegas Strip and should be done by early 2016.
Mr. Bettman, the desert and the NHL don’t mix.  Just look at the NHL’s only desert team, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes have ranked at or near the bottom of the NHL in attendance for the last five seasons. They ranked last in three of their previous five seasons, and are third last so far in 2014–15.

During that time, the Coyotes posted an overall record of 163–135–57, along with one division championship and two playoff appearances. This is a winning team.

The desert doesn’t draw fans — regardless of how successful their team is.

However, Canadians cities usually sell out hockey arenas so long as there’s a team. Even the dismal Edmonton Oilers sell out most games.

There are many alternatives to Las Vegas. One is bringing back the Quebec Nordiques, which should be considered before Las Vegas. There are still tons of Nordiques fans out there. Even in the face of massive cuts to public spending, Quebec labour minister Sam Hamad has said that Quebec City is considering putting taxpayer money towards building a new arena in an effort to bring back the Nordiques.

Another viable option is Seattle. It’s a sports-crazy town and the Seahawks are notorious for having the loudest fans in the NFL.

If a team didn’t work in Phoenix  under similar circumstances, then why would Las Vegas be any different?

Some people might think that Las Vegas and Phoenix are two different markets. I understand where they’re coming from, but the desert is the desert no matter what. You can surround it with as many expensive hotels, luxurious casinos and glamorous lights as you want, but at the end of the day the NHL has no business being there.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Las Vegas is a great city — a great city to destroy young players’ careers. Coaches will have a tough time keeping millionaire kids focused on hockey when they’re playing in an arena located in the centre of escapism.

Many sports teams have strayed from Vegas and its close connection to gambling because of the precarious notion of maintaining the integrity of the sport and its players. Even Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, has been investigated by the FBI for placing bets on the outcome of Phoenix Coyotes games when Gretzky was a part-owner.

People go to Las Vegas to get away from the cold, not to spend their night at a hockey rink. Who will go to the games if the majority of Vegas’ workforce works in the evening?

Free tickets to Las Vegas hockey games would be as throw-away as handout escort cards on the strip because no one will go. It’s better to place a team in a city that cares about hockey.

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