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NHL Expansion On The Cards?

The NHL is looking increasingly likely to become the first major sports league to add a Las Vegas franchise.

The NHL is looking likely to become the first major sports league to add a Las Vegas franchise.

The National Hockey League could be closer to expansion than previously thought, with Las Vegas looking increasingly likely to be the next destination of choice for league brass.

In an article published by the Minnesota Star-Tribune on Tuesday, it was revealed that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly visited Las Vegas last weekend on a fact-finding mission of sorts.

Daly met with a potential new ownership group during his visit to the city, before touring the site upon which a new $350 million multipurpose arena is being constructed by AEG and MGM Resorts International.

A ground breaking ceremony for the new arena took place on May 1, 2014, with completion expected in spring 2016. The new 20,000-seat will sit between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo on the Las Vegas Strip, little more than a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the city’s current premium sporting venue.

Now it looks as if the state-of-the-art facility could be housing Sin City’s first major professional sports franchise.

Expansion has been at the forefront of discussions for several years now, although league commissioner Gary Bettman has done his best to deflect as much of the noise as possible.

Most recently, reports emerged in August that the NHL was planning to add four teams by 2017. Cities alleged to have been designated as expansion destinations included Las Vegas, Quebec City and Seattle, with a second franchise being assigned to the Greater Toronto Area. Again, Bettman struck the notion down.

Little more than two months down the line though, a Las Vegas hockey club is looking like a very real prospect, partly due to the lopsided partition between conferences.

With 16 teams playing hockey in the Eastern Conference and only 14 playing in the Western Conference, the front office – which incidentally instigated the uneven divide ahead of the 2013-14 season – is keen to bring parity back to the league structure.

According to Daly: “[Expansion] would have to take place in the West before it would take place in the East because you can’t get further misaligned.”

It’s no secret that the league has its eyes firmly on Seattle, which is about as west as it gets without shipping out to Alaska or Hawaii. But with a new arena in the city dependent on an NBA team (either existing or expansion) striking a deal with the city, hockey in the Emerald City may have to wait.

Right now, with a shiny new arena on the horizon, Las Vegas is looking like the safer bet.

If the NHL does indeed add a Las Vegas franchise, it will likely take precautions in terms of sports betting. The league will likely ask that legislature is put in place so that bettors cannot bet on the club at the city’s sports books. Similar policies are in place for UNLV’s sports teams, while bettors were unable to put money down on the Sacramento Kings at the Palms during the ownership tenure of the Maloof family.

As for those other potential expansion destinations?

Quebec City will open a new arena next season and has a proven fan base. The Quebec Nordiques didn’t ship out to Denver due to a lack of fans; they made the move because they had an outdated facility to play in and the conversion rate was debilitating. The problem is the team would need to be in the Eastern Conference and expansion looks like it’ll be out West next time around.

Toronto (or Hamilton, or Markham, or whichever part of the GTA is up for grabs) is a tough pill to swallow right now. Like Quebec City it’s in the East which is hurdle number one. Hurdle number two is finding the financial package that suits the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and the new franchise. Then there’s finding a suitable arena. Basically, expansion in Toronto looks a little further off, or, more likely, a case for relocation.

Incidentally, if rumors of a four-team expansion prove to be true, the NHL would become the first of the four major sporting leagues in North American to expand to 34 teams.

The NHL’s last expansion program came in 2000 with the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.


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