NHL-to-Vegas Talk Is on Ice

Illustration by Krystal Ramirez

Illustration by Krystal Ramirez

Throughout his campaign to bring a National Hockey League franchise to Las Vegas, prospective owner Bill Foley has been open about targeting 2016-17 as the inaugural season for his Aces/Black Knights/Silver Miners/Team-to-be-Named-Later. Now it appears Foley and hopeful fans will have to cool their heels a bit before the puck officially drops.

Speculation had been swirling that the NHL’s Board of Governor’s meeting, scheduled for June 24 in Las Vegas in conjunction with the NHL’s annual awards ceremony, would be the perfect occasion to announce a Sin City expansion franchise. However, commissioner Gary Bettman threw ice-cold water on that idea during his annual state of the league news conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, telling the media that no expansion vote would take place at the meeting—just a vote to determine if the league should consider the issue. If enough owners support expansion, the league will then start seriously considering bids from cities hoping to secure franchises.

The good news: With an ownership group in place, a glitzy new arena rising rapidly behind the Strip and a successful season-ticket drive that has pulled in more than 11,000 deposits so far, Las Vegas would figure to be at the top of such a list. The bad news: A 2016 start is now almost certainly off the table. ESPN hockey writer Scott Burnside reported that the earliest Vegas could officially be awarded an expansion team would be in September, which would shift the entire timeline, making 2017-18 the debut season.

Multiple attempts to reach Foley for comment were unsuccessful. But the delay in voting can’t be ideal for him or his Vegas Wants Hockey movement, which until now had been cruising along, easily hitting every marker. Two-plus years is a long time to make fans wait, and although there would be enough happening in the meantime to keep the diehards interested—front-office hires, a dispersal draft, team name, uniform unveilings, etc.—the franchise’s momentum would undoubtedly be slowed.

There has been speculation that a team could come sooner, as relocation rumors continue to swirl around the Arizona Coyotes, a franchise that has struggled to draw fans and is now embroiled in a dispute with the City of Glendale over its arena lease. But recent Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets history notwithstanding, Bettman is loathe to move franchises, and reiterated in his news conference that relocation is not an option this time around.

Which means if Vegas really wants hockey, it’s probably going to have to be patient.