Las Vegas expansion preview

The bells were ringing big time in ‘Sin City’ on Tuesday when it became official that Las Vegas would be awarded the 31st NHL franchise. There is a lot of excitement about what all of this means so we’ve put together a basic guide

Who Owns The New Team & What Will They Be Called

The owner of the new hockey team is Bill Foley, the Chairman of Fidelity National Financial. He manages a ton of money, has a ton of money and has a lot of wealthy investors with the team. Foley is a graduate of West Point, so the team is expected to be called the Black Knights in honor of the Army sports teams at West Point, also known as the Black Knights. The colors will most likely be black, silver and gold. 

When & Where Will They Play

Las Vegas will begin play for the 2017-18 season. They have just over a year to build their organization. The team will play in the brand new T-Mobile Arena, which just opened this April on the strip in Las Vegas. True to form, the T-Mobile Arena has two night clubs up high that overlook the ice, a red carpet for high rollers to enter on and many expensive suites and amenities.

How Will The New Team Be Created

Las Vegas will not be handed the 1st overall pick in 2017. Rather, they will be thrown in the draft lottery with the caveat and the furthest they can fall to is sixth overall.

What Does This Mean For the Sabres?

In the summer of 2017 the NHL will host an expansion draft. The Sabres, along with the other 29 teams, will have to make players available for Las Vegas to choose from. Not every player will be made available and Buffalo can protect some as well:

  • Players with two years of professional experience or less are exempt from the process.
  • Players with NMCs must be protected, but may be exposed if the player agrees to waive his NMC
  • Teams can protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender
  • Teams must expose 2 forwards and 1 defenseman that play 40 games in the 2016-17 season or 70 games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
  • Teams must expose one goaltender who is either under contract for 2017-18 or an RFA in the 2017 off-season.

That means players such as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Hudson Fasching are not eligible for the draft, which means Buffalo doesn’t need to protect them. What it does mean is a team like Anaheim is at risk of losing a player such as Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa, Clayton Stoner, Sami Vatanen or Hampus Lindholm due to only being able to protect only three defenseman.

The rational for this is the league wants Las Vegas to have a fighting chance at inception, not rack up a bunch of 20-win seasons that can kill a new market like what happened in Atlanta. Becoming a playoff team would still be a surprise, but Las Vegas will start in much better footing then previous expansion teams.

If you have 20 minutes to spare, this link to General Fanager allows you to exempt every team’s players and draft a lineup for the expansion team.

How Successful A Market Could Las Vegas Be

The new hockey team starts not only as a new franchise in a new city, but also the only game in town. The NHL could be on a goldmine, given no other professional sports team exists in Las Vegas (although the Oakland Raiders could move there at some point).

Las Vegas has a city population over 600,000 and growing, comparable to Nashville and Raleigh. But with all the visitors Las Vegas has you can add another 1.4 million people to draw from. Las Vegas also succeeded in raising over 13,000 season ticket holders, so home fan attendance will be strong even with Casinos packaging deals to out of town fans.

The NHL gets a bad name with expansion despite the success of teams like Anaheim, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Nashville. I would expect Las Vegas to mimic those markets in terms of success. The league’s willingness to create a stronger expansion draft pool should speed up the time it takes for a new team to have success.

Craig Mazuchowski
Craig Mazuchowski
SUNY Oswego Alumni. Self-taught guitarist. I've been a Sabres and hockey fan since birth. I've also refereed youth hockey and play in a men’s league. My tombstone will be in the shape of pizza.
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