Pretty soon, boxing might not be the only fight you can pay to see in Las Vegas.
The NHL officially declared its desire to explore expansion, and despite the city's only icy climate existing in the basement of a Russian vodka bar, Vegas is considered a frontrunner to land not only a hockey team, but the city's first professional sports franchise. The NBA could follow shortly thereafter, but it's hockey that's expected to win the race to the desert.
It's been 15 years since the NHL's last expansion, and nearly 50 years since the Class of 1967 doubled the league's size from the Original Six to 12 clubs scattered across North America.
Back then, the likes of the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the St. Louis Blues brought hockey to new markets in the game's most significant expansion. There are currently 30 teams.
"The fact that we are beginning this process does not necessarily mean that any expansion teams will be granted as a result of this process," commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The NHL will start accepting bids in July, Bettman added this week. The cost of a new team is $500 million, a fee that would be divvied up evenly among the existing clubs. With new arenas either on the verge of completion or still in the developmental stages, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Quebec are the early favorites to win a team.
"It would be a cool place to have a hockey team," Montreal Canadiens MVP goaltender Carey Price told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It would be fun. It's a glamour city, and I could see a lot of hockey fans coming here to visit and watch their team."
Billionaire William Foley has already launched a season ticket deposit campaign in Vegas and has more than 10,000 commitments. A new arena on the Strip is currently under construction. Seattle also has plans to build a new arena, and a new barn opened in Quebec, a passionate hockey city that lost the Nordiques to Colorado in 1995. About an hour after Bettman announced the expansion study, Quebecor, a Canadian communications company, threw its hat in the ring to land a team.
"Quebecor has consistently stated that its objective is to establish an NHL franchise in Quebec City and it intends to make every effort to achieve that goal," it said in a statement.
Hockey-mad Toronto could easily support a second franchise, Kansas City has been in the expansion conversation for more than a decade, Milwaukee has emerged as a new and legitimate contender, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has expressed interest in bringing a team to Portland, Oregon. No teams would begin play until the 2017-18 season.
Expansion opponents argue that having more teams would dilute the NHL's talent and negatively impact the product on the ice for a league that's faced three lockouts and thousands of cancelled games since the 1994-95 season. So the idea of relocating existing teams to new markets could be a solution to mend struggling franchises in Phoenix and Carolina. Either way, the NHL is serious about putting teams in new markets.
"Over the past several years we have received numerous expressions of interest from potential markets and ownership groups that have indicated an interest in joining the National Hockey League," Bettman said. "The Board decided today to examine those expressions more formally and also to welcome any other groups or markets that may be considering pursuit of an NHL team."
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