01 Aug Vegas Baby!
It’s official, the National Hockey League is coming to Las Vegas! So move over Cirque du Soleil because there’s a new Canadian attraction coming to town.
My apologies to any die hard fans of the short-lived XFL and the Las Vegas Outlaws, but soon will actually begin the first true experiment to see if Sin City can support a major sports franchise. Surely, the likes of the NBA/NFL/MLB will be paying close attention to see how a sheet of ice will survive in the desert. And, perhaps for the first time in the modern era in the sport of hockey, we may have a situation in the seasons to come where a team legitimately has “home ice advantage”. Allow me to explain…
In the NBA, for a number of years, the Toronto Raptors would host Sunday afternoon games at the Air Canada Centre. Usually these games would be scheduled for either 1pm or 3pm. And, even as a perennial sub .500 team, the Raptors would usually conquer their opponents on these Sunday games. Why? Legend has it that the Raptors were the benefactors of visiting opponents coming in and partying at establishments that followed “Canadian rules”, including (among other things) a younger drinking age, a lower dollar and a much more relaxed set of rules in certain adult theatres. All of which led visiting teams to bite off a bit more than they could chew on Saturday nights, resulting in sloppy performances on the Sundays.
Basketball and hockey are two completely different sports for any number of reasons. But the conflict of professional athletes acting as “professionals” in the face of temptation is universal amongst the major sports in North America.
I’m going to put this relatively bluntly: hockey players are far from the sharpest knives in the drawer. You do have your Ivy League graduate here and there as well as the devout Catholics, but those are very few and very far between. I’ve known enough of hockey players personally to say all of this more objectively than subjectively. And if you give a 21 year old kid a million dollars and twenty other like-minded, bad influences a chance to enjoy themselves on the the Las Vegas Strip for a night or two… I’ll just bet that it is going to affect the on-ice product.
Yes, I genuinely believe that the city of Las Vegas itself with all of its many distractions, will greatly impact opposing players coming in and being able to concentrate on what is supposed to matter the most: winning hockey games.
Frankly, I think Las Vegas is going to prove itself to be a very viable franchise in the NHL for years to come. I believe that the city has a large enough population to support the franchise (although they will have to come up with a good on-ice product soon after inauguration). And the fact that this is the first major sports franchise in the city effectively makes this Las Vegas team yet another destination for all passers by. Throw in a couple of celebrity cameo appearances at the arena and maybe the endorsement of a DJ or two and soon, in that nice new arena, the Vegas hockey game becomes THE spot to go before a night out.
My only real gripe with this new squad coming into the NHL is the fact that the LAST thing the NHL needs to do is expand. Seriously, the on ice product is fine… but let’s remember that only 8 teams in the league actually make money (thank goodness for revenue sharing). Adding a team in Las Vegas still doesn’t solve the franchises that have been treading their heads above water for years such as Florida, Columbus, or Arizona. Now there is going to be a 31 teams in the league which makes all of zero sense. If you’re going to add one team, you might as well add a second team so that you can have an even number and balance out the fact that there are still more teams in Eastern Conference than there are in the Western Conference. And it’s okay, forget about Quebec City, forget about a second team in Toronto (despite those both being very viable long-term options), why not consider Seattle? Or Portland? Or, how about slot in a team in the Bay Area? Oakland already has the sports infrastructure and fan base to support a 4th franchise. But I digress… G-d forbid we can have balance!
I, for one, see Las Vegas as having a potentially very lucrative and long lasting NHL team for years to come. I think players, if they are made up of the right calibre of professionalism, are going to enjoy playing in the city (with no shortage of things to do on off days), and I think we’re going to see an avid fan base (look at Anaheim and San Jose as successful examples of what can happen when you place a franchise in a warm-climate State). And, before you know it, the entire game of hockey grows in Nevada and then 15 years from now we see the Nevada version of Auston Matthews appear. The future is brighter than the lights in the Casinos themselves!
Will visiting teams be able to refrain from general debauchery in Sin City? The fact remains to be seen. If not, look for Las Vegas to have an exceptional record on home ice. And, come playoff time (should that be in the near future of the organization) I suppose anything can happen. For my money, as long as they keep Rick Tocchet as far away from the organization as possible, then they at least have a fighting chance.
I don’t know what the Vegas odds are for this franchise to succeed in the NHL. But I’d give it 4:3 odds of the franchise lasting more than a decade.
By: Eric Saltsman
Check out Sports Buffet with The SportsCrew Live Monday at 2pm ET. Call 516-387-1306 to join the conversation and chat with hosts Lou Landers & Zak Sauer. They will be joined by SportsCrew writer Eric Saltsman.