Hockey world turns attention to Las Vegas

Jun 19, 2009 3:06 AM
by GT Staff |

Tonight’s National Hockey League awards celebration at the Palms Hotel & Casino is not only a coup for Las Vegas, it’s actually a chance for the city to audition for a possible NHL franchise.

"Certainly having the NHL here is a great way to showcase our city," Palms owner George Maloof toldGamingToday. "To have all the great NHL stars here at the Palms is a wonderful achievement. I don’t know about any plans for an NHL team, but I believe Las Vegas is a great market. Opening the Pearl Concert Theater took us to a new level and hosting this event proves it."

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The NHL Awards will be held at the Palms tonight, and will be broadcast live on the Versus Network.

Awards ceremonies and entertainment events at the Palms are nothing new, but talk of an NHL franchise landing in Las Vegas has found traction in recent weeks.

Maloof, whose family also owns the NBA Sacramento Kings, said he would like to see an NHL team in Vegas – especially because of all the hockey fans.

"The city has so much to offer and having a professional team would be great," he said. "(But) there’s no immediate plans we are working on. Like I said, we are going to focus on this weekend."

Landing a team is something the local newspapers have asked of a few of the NHL stars in attendance, with Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks joking that the home team would go "41-0" because of all the, uh, distractions facing the road team during tips to play Vegas.

But Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, as good an ambassador as hockey has, offered an interesting take:

"There’s been a lot of talk about it, and usually among the players it’s pretty popular. Then there’s always the joke – I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times – is that the home team would sure have a nice advantage, which would probably bear some truth. ... It’s not just a joke. It might be difficult to be as focused, but it’d be fun. There’s a lot to do here, great restaurants, and I’d be all for it."

Obviously, there are demographic, economic and market considerations that trump "hey, the players like it" when it comes to these decisions; were it up to the players, the NHL would have a fourth New York City-area franchise in the champagne room at Scores.

But the NHL Players Association has been vocal about playing a larger role in deciding NHL markets, so their support for a Las Vegas franchise can’t be dismissed. The question is whether Vegas could support one.

The timing of this debate is undeniably awkward. On the one hand, it’s a glorious honeymoon phase for the NHL and Vegas; on the other, the League’s current desert-based franchise, the Phoenix Coyotes, continue to tenuously cling to their city while some charitable new owner is found.

Plus, the momentum for a Vegas franchise, that seemed so very real when Jerry Bruckheimer hinted he intended to own one in recent years, has slowed, at least before the Awards arrived.

Provided the casinos were onboard – and gobbled up the private boxes and luxury seating to host their well-heeled clients – then even a modest season-ticket base and the odd tourist passing through might make the financial model work.

Of course, that was the theory before the economy tanked.

The NHL Awards in Las Vegas look like a success from several angles, but that shouldn’t be a harbinger for success as an NHL city. If nothing else, as NHL COO John Collins told Scott Burnside of ESPN, this week shows that the League can take the reins on a niche event, sex it up and bring it to a wider audience; and that the players will support it.

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