SI – For years now, Gary Bettman has politely rebuffed inquiries about possible NHL expansion, saying the league was always listening to pitches, but it wasn’t at a point where it was willing to seriously consider welcoming any new members to the family. Writing in The Province, Tony Gallagher says that stance has changed. Expansion he says is not only happening, but in one of the unlikeliest of destinations: Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City. Gallagher then goes on to suggest the league might be hard-pressed to limit expansion to just two teams. One of the others, presumably, would land in Seattle, a city that has been at the center of expansion rumors for the past year. Vancouver-born billionaire Victor Coleman has been identified as someone interested in bringing an NHL club to the Pacific Northwest. Quebec City, with an NHL-ready arena set to open in 2015 and Pierre-Karl Peladeau an obvious owner-in-waiting, also would be a favorite. While those two centers and their lengthy ties to the sport would be logical choices, it’s the possibility of pucks in Vegas that really catches the eye … and draws out the snarky naysayers. To be fair, they can make a decent argument. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to scoff at the idea of putting another team in the desert, among them a transient population, a sea of competing entertainment options and a work force geared heavily toward the night shift. And then there’s that whole gambling thing. Maybe that’s reason enough that Vegas shouldn’t happen. But give Bettman credit. He’s had the vision and the courage to put teams in locations his predecessors never would have considered. Once in place, he’s laid everything on the line, including his own political credit, to help them survive. And in many of those locales the game has thrived, planting the kind of roots that gives it a legitimate chance of long-term success. Seeing a green light where others see red has been the defining characteristic of Bettman’s regime. But he’s not in the habit of making decisions to secure his legacy, or to say he was the first to plant a flag in soil other leagues see as salted. If there’s even a chance he’ll say “yes” when everyone else is saying “no,” it’s because all the pieces are in place. The arena. The ownership. The corporate support. The season ticket base. At this point all we have is one report, not streaming footage of a press conference, so maybe we should all double down on that grain of salt. But if there’s anything to this report, if Gary really believes that Vegas is ready for the NHL — and vice versa — maybe we all should just listen to the man.
This might be the best thing Gary Bettman has ever done. No, scratch that. This IS the best thing Gary Bettman has ever done. Putting a new team in Vegas is saying hey, we’re the NHL, and we’re here to fuck shit up. I can’t even imagine having to go into Vegas as an opposing team and facing a drunk rowdy as hell crowd. Nevermind just having to go to Vegas to play. I can’t decide who is worse off- the players who have to live in Vegas year round, or the poor schlubs who will go to Vegas with a day to sight see, wake up in a random hotel room surrounded by hookers and crack at noon the next day, and then have to play a game that night. Either way, the Vegas games just sound like a coked up awesome time.
PS: To point out the obvious, this could fail hard. Vegas isn’t a very affluent city and there’s not a big success rate of moving teams to warm weather cities. And last time I checked, Vegas is in the middle of the damn desert. Sure as fuck didn’t work in Arizona with the Coyotes, so skeptics will wonder why it would work now? Can they actually have a fan base? Or will it be tourists choosing between going to Blue Man Group or the hockey game?