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Las Vegas Officially Awarded NHL Expansion Franchise

It’s official, the NHL announced on Wednesday that Las Vegas will in fact be home to a new expansion franchise starting play in the 2017-18 season. The move was announced by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the league’s Board of Governors unanimously approved expanding to Sin City with the 31st team.

Owner Bill Foley won his bet on getting Vegas its first professional sports team by playing a key role in building T-Mobile Arena, securing more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits and ensuring payment of the required $500-million expansion fee. Now he will be very busy moving forward with plans to hire additional personnel, build a practice facility and construct his new hockey team mostly through the expansion draft in 2017.

Foley’s team will play in the NHL’s Pacific Division and likely have nearby rivalries with the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes, who both will lose at least one player in the expansion draft. There has already been speculation about who teams will not choose to protect in the draft, which will take place a year from now.

The Las Vegas franchise will pick at least one player from all 30 current teams in the expansion draft and submit the list of selections to the league next June 20. On June 21, that list will be made public and be announced as the official roster of the new team. Among the players chosen must be 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

A minimum of 20 players picked by Las Vegas in the expansion draft must be under contract for the 2017-18 season, and the team is not allowed to buy out any of them before the summer after their first season. The other teams can protect up to 11 players, either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and a goalie.

In the 2017 NHL Draft, Las Vegas will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the third-worst team, cannot pick lower than sixth overall and will select third in every round after the first. No other changes will be made to the NHL’s alignment or playoff format with the addition of the new team, which remains nameless for the time being.

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Though not yet officially official until the NHL Board of Governors approves the move at a meeting on June 22 in Las Vegas, the city is expected to be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2017-18 season. The 30 current league owners will vote on the addition of Las Vegas at that time, with two-thirds required to approve the new team.

News of the NHL’s expansion plans leaked out earlier this week after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks on Sunday to win their fourth Stanley Cup and first since 2009. There had been talk that a second team in Quebec City could be added as well to balance out the league, which currently has two more teams in the Eastern Conference. The Las Vegas team is expected to compete in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division along with others from the West Coast of the United States, including the Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Las Vegas businessman and prospective owner Bill Foley led the charge for an NHL team two years ago in Sin City by working on having the new 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena built and securing more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits. T-Mobile Arena opened back in April to rave reviews and will seat 17,500 fans for hockey.

Foley and his investment group that also includes the Maloof brothers will need to pay a $500 million expansion fee for the new team, which is more than six times what the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets paid to join the league when they were added in 2000. Gavin, Joe and George Maloof previously owned the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and The Palms hotel and casino before selling both, but they have always wanted to bring a professional sports team to Vegas, the largest market in the U.S. without one.

The team name has still not been decided, although Black Knights has been mentioned the most because Foley is a graduate of West Point and has already cleared using it with the U.S. Military Academy. Scorpions is another potential option, but more info should start becoming available following the Board of Governors meeting next week.

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It’s clear that Vegas wants hockey, as backers of a potential expansion team in Sin City have used that exact slogan as their mission statement behind businessman Bill Foley. But does hockey want Vegas? There should be an answer sometime soon, with the NHL Awards scheduled for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino there on June 22, shortly after a new champion hoists the Stanley Cup at the end of this season. 

Foley and the Maloof family that previously owned the NBA’s Sacramento Kings along with the Palms Casino Resort have been the main supporters of an NHL team in Vegas, driving a season ticket campaign that has already topped its goal of 10,000 deposits. Foley has also started plans to build a new practice facility serving as the new team’s headquarters and housing two NHL-sized rinks with a capacity of 600 seats for each. Construction could begin in September after an official decision is made by the league. 

That decision may or may not be made by the time the annual awards show comes to town. Back in March, the NHL released two proposals for an expansion draft in 2017 at the general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. The league’s Board of Governors will meet next in Vegas at the end of June, although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman can make an announcement even sooner before then if needed.

Foley has been more than patient with the process, making sure he has all of his ducks in a row along the way, with one of the biggest hurdles cleared when the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena opened officially on April 6. Privately funded by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) – which also built the Staples Center in Los Angeles – the arena always seemed to be a sore spot for Vegas residents who did not want to foot the bill for a projected that ended up totaling $375 million.

But Foley found a way to get an arena at no cost to locals, something that likely would not be the case for a new domed NFL stadium with a $1.4 billion price tag that has been rumored as the future home of the Oakland Raiders. While the Raiders are more of longshot at this point, an NHL expansion team appears to be a much better bet. The clock is still ticking, and time will tell if Foley’s gamble will end up as a jackpot or bust.