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NHL -- Let's go to Vegas. Now.

by Photo of Kevin Leonard

The NHL and Las Vegas should totally elope.

NHL -- Let's go to Vegas. Now.

Vegas - America's playground, and all that. The ultimate location to bet on and watch sports. A place where people go to blow money. Home of a successful ECHL franchise, the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Are you getting all this, franchise owners?

Not only does Las Vegas play host to arguably the largest influx of spendthrifts in the world, shy of, maybe, Amsterdam, Tijuana, and Pattaya, Thailand (at least, according to AskMen.com) -- the city also boasts a metro  area population pushing 2 million (30th in the country) and a per capita income of $28,678 (above the national average of $26,505). Coupled with a cost of living comparable to the national mark, Las Vegas has the manpower to support a major sports team.

And it's not that the city hasn't tried to entice teams; the city has a history of trying to entice teams, including a proposed arena to attract NBA and NHL franchises. The most notable conversation a prospective owner has had with the NHL has been between television and movie-man Jerry Bruckheimer and commissioner Gary Bettman.

The problem largely has to do with image. Vegas is Sin City, a symbol of sex, gambling, drugs, and violence. Major leagues, marketing themselves to whole families, don't want to be associated with that. But as the country matures, and people realize that not everyone in any given place does the same thing, and there are actually nursing mothers, minivans driving to soccer practice, and old men playing shuffleboard, all in Las Vegas, they'll won't judge teams so harshly for being there.

Of course, with Las Vegas comes gambling and other mischief; the primary concern among executives in the major sports has to be their players rubbing elbows with Vegas bookies, and getting into nightlife trouble. Here's a way to eliminate one third of that: don't have training camp in Vegas. Problem solved.

With disciplinary troubles abound in the NFL and NBA, it's unlikely that either of those leagues would make the first move to Las Vegas. Plus, the NFL doesn't need it; it's by far the most dominant league on the continent, and practically any city would embrace a franchise. Major League Baseball is unlikely, as well; with the most high profile gambling crisis in pro sports in the form of Pete Rose, the move would look really bad for the league. Plus, the lazy nature of an afternoon baseball game doesn't seem to match the fervor of the city.

The most likely leagues to invade Vegas are clearly the NHL and NBA, especially with the proposed arena. Despite disciplinary problems, it's easy to see how successful an NBA franchise would be in Las Vegas; it's end-to-end action and instant gratification scoring would drive bet-placers bonkers. The league also held it's All-star game there in 2007. The NHL could take a leaf out of this book: playing an All-star game, preseason games there or sending the Winter Classic in (although it might be a bit warm).

Although the Staal brothers got arrested after Eric's bachelor party a couple of years back, the NHL is probably the best-behaved of the major leagues, and its players would be able to compose themselves among Vegas temptation. And whether it's clean culture in hockey, or a sloppy drug testing policy, the NHL has only had one player test positive for PEDs since instituting a policy. The NHL's would also fit in with the high pace of Vegas: try finding a game on TV where the cameraman doesn't lose the puck at least 5 times.

Although the NBA would be a great fit, the NHL needs to pave the road into Las Vegas. Not only does the league have a better rep in disciplinary terms, it has little-to-no rep in terms of popularity -- it's doubtful anyone outside of Vancouver or Montreal would riot over anything hockey-related. That being said, the league needs to make a splash. The NHL has consistently tried to make itself more marketable to fans, adding the ridiculous trapezoid behind the net, eliminating the two-line pass, softening their penalty-policy to increase powerplays and, for some reason, making the home jerseys away jerseys, and the away jerseys home jerseys. It's time for a high-profile move that'll really get the league some mainstream attention.

Another issue to keep in mind in the coming year is Gary Bettman's plan for realignment for the 2012-2013 season (good thing for Winnipeg, who'll be half of their divisional games in the American Southeast). There are a number of ideas being tossed about, including two mega-divisions for conferences. All conversation underlines the importance of shifting Detroit and Columbus (and possibly Nashville) into the Eastern conference (Nashville is in the Central time zone, the former two in the Eastern). This proposed realignment would leave the league very East-heavy, despite Winnipeg going to the West. Plus, Phoenix is most likely going to be shipped off somewhere.

Somehow, the West will have to be balanced, unless the league shifts to a 14/16 format like major league baseball, and about 60% of the Western Conference's teams make the playoffs every year. Phoenix almost has to stay West even for that to happen. Las Vegas would be a great relocation -- an interested owner, a building, a populous, and a relative geographic closeness that would allow current Coyotes fans to retain some identity with the team. Other cities that should be candidates for Western expansion are Portland and Seattle, who have embraced their MLS franchises, and whose proximity to Canada make them good candidates. Both cities have has hockey history, and Seattle is the second-largest television market without an NHL franchise (Houston is the largest).

Las Vegas is a city with personality, and the NHL could do with a little spunk. Get in there, Bettman. Maybe fans will forgive you for 2005 and and the ensuing Soft NHL if you do something to move the league forward. Signing onto Versus was nice, but that hardly makes up for putting teams in the Atlanta, Miami, Carolina, and Florida (although 2 teams won Cups) before Minnesota.

Hockey's a cold-weather affair, and needs to have strongholds where it's accepted before it invades elsewhere. Las Vegas is dying for a major team, and this is a golden opportunity for the league.

For NHL preseason tickets, visit Charged.fm. Get down to see some hockey.

Comments (1)
  1. Tim Odom's profile

    Tim Odom

    July 13th, 2011 @17:41


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