Unless your head was in the desert sand this week, rumors started to fly that Las Vegas was in line to get a NHL team either via relocation or expansion in the next handful of years. For most sports, Vegas is a toxic waste dump (for the obvious reasons) and one that should not be tread on. But once one league takes the plunge and dips their toe into the 100 foot pool that are professional sports in Sin City, it figures that others will follow, right? I'm not Ladbrokes, but I'm not going to be the one taking a punt with those odds.
Sports in Las Vegas have a checkered history, even if they are all mainly minor league flops and the Haley's Comet of college hoops in UNLV. Why go to see the Las Vegas 51's play the Memphis Redbirds when the Wynn is down the street? Or, why go see the Las Vegas Wranglers (when they existed) when Siegfried and Roy are far more interesting entertainment (and that's not saying much)? Sure minor league and college sports are totally different animals to the big fish in the pond, but Vegas as Vegas isn't changing any time soon. As much as us looney's that are sports fans may not want to admit, sports are entertainment that compete for your dollar with everything else on offer, and in Vegas that's exacerbated even further. Then there's the potential fanbase... does one exist for a Vegas team when the population is mainly transient, and tourist based? If the casual Canadian hockey fan is going to get on South Florida and Phoenix for having garbage attendance based on the appearance of snowbirds and tourists, then Vegas would be the coup de grace for those folks, even if the building was filled every night. And there's that little gambling thing too...
Why would the NHL want be the first to test the waters of professional sports in Las Vegas? If hockey can't work in Phoenix and Miami (allegedly), why would it work in Vegas? It has a chance. For one, no one who casually bets on sports has any clue how to bet on hockey. I'm 21 and I've known how lines and the O/U have worked for at least 10 years, and that's a bad thing considering how much the NFL publicly discourages it (I never even watched Jimmy the Greek). If a gambling dummy like me can figure it out, anyone can. Basketball, and to an extent baseball are the same way. As every casual football fan knows how to take the Broncos and the points, no casual hockey can explain to me the hockey gambling parlance, if there is one to speak of. So the gambling fears for the NHL suits might be less prevalent then those for messrs Goodell, Manfred or Silver. And, as Vegas has always loved its novelties, hockey in Las Vegas has a history of being that. There was an outdoor preseason game played in Vegas in September of 1991 that might be the most hilarious game of hockey ever played, and just ask the grasshoppers who got frozen into the ice about that. As a show, a Vegas hockey team would at least fit the bill.
The in-arena experience at a Vegas "Gamblers" game would be fun, too. Would they (the high rollers in the box seats that is) be rooting for Vegas, the visitors, or on how many goals were scored to cover the over/under? And would the people in the proletariat seats be rooting for Vegas or the visitors, especially if they are there on vacation coincidentally at the same time as their team having a road game there? The rink would have a "sellout" every night, but would it be like a United Center or Bell Centre sellout? The answer is pretty clear.
So I've spent most of this article rehashing claims about why pro sports in Las Vegas can't work that have holes in them the size of craps tables. But there's one reason why the NHL might be just the league to make it happen in spite of all of the consistent obstacles.
The NHL has done very little in Gary Bettman's time as commissioner to create buzz. Hockey is a distant 4th out of 4 in the US among the major sports, and odds are soccer is going to pass it soon. The product on the ice is as good as ever, profits are soaring through the roof and the league is as stable as it has been maybe ever. This league is the most likely to take the plunge not only for the buzz, but because they are the most capable of dealing with the fallout if it fails. The NFL can never go to Las Vegas when the siren songs of London and Los Angeles are still playing, let alone having a team there, the NBA needs to get a team back in Seattle before Vegas is even sniffed, and MLB has to get kids back into the game before trying to get 51 year old Johnny Roller into it some more. If the NHL has a fail-safe ready in case it fails (which is highly possible), why shouldn't the NHL walk the uncharted road?
Only two suggestions for you Mr. Bettman if Vegas does have a team by the league's 100th anniversary: One is that Brent Musberger becomes the local TV play-by-play guy, and two, please keep Rick Tocchet as far away from this team as possible. For our own sake.