NHL Expands to Las Vegas
Las Vegas was awarded an NHL expansion team and will begin playing in the 2017-18 season. The team will be called the Vegas Golden Knights. Even though Las Vegas was just awarded its first NHL franchise, the NHL has had ties with the city dating back to 1991. In 1991 an outdoor game was held in Las Vegas, with the Los Angeles Kings facing the New York Rangers right outside Caesars Palace in a preseason game. Las Vegas has also been home to a couple of minor league hockey teams. The Las Vegas Thunder began playing in the now defunct IHL in 1993 and played there until 1999. The Thunder played at the Thomas and Mack Center and some of the Thunder players went on to the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL, Knoxville Cherokees and Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL and even with Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL. Thunder fans got to see some notable players play for the team before they went on to have successful NHL careers. Some of these players include the late Pavol Demitra, Radek Bonk, Curtis Joseph, Petr Nedved, and Alexei Yashin. Las Vegas has been home to an ECHL team as well. The ECHL is below the AHL, which is just below the NHL. The Las Vegas Wranglers played in the ECHL from 2003 to 2014 and played at the Orleans Arena. They were affiliated with the Calgary Flames until 2009 before switching their affiliation to the Phoenix Coyotes. They have produced a few NHL players and former Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan is now the head coach of the Calgary Flames in the NHL. Every year since 1997 (except for the lockout years of 2004-05 and 2012-13) Las Vegas has also hosted the Frozen Fury, which is a preseason game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche. From 1997-2015 it was held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but in 2016 it was held T-Mobile Arena and the NHL plans to continue this annual game even after the Vegas Golden Knights begin playing in the NHL. Las Vegas also hosts the annual NHL Awards ceremony every June.
This is the first time the NHL has expanded since 2000. Expansion and relocation in the NHL was very common in the 1990s which saw many new teams join and ,many teams relocate. In 1991 the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL. The following year the league grew to 24 teams, with the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning joining the NHL.
The next season, in 1993-94 the NHL continued its move into the ,Sunbelt by adding teams in Miami and Anaheim. Miami’s team would be called the Florida Panthers and went to the Stanley Cup Final it just their third year of existence which is unheard for an expansion team. Anaheim’s team was named the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, after the popular Disney movie because Disney owned the team at the time. Also in that same season the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas, Texas to become the Dallas Stars. In 1995 t,he Quebec Nordiques moved and became the Colorado Avalanche. The following season the Winnipeg Jets moved to become the Phoenix Coyotes. The Hartford Whalers moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes. The NHL rounded out the decade by adding the Nashville Predators in 1998, the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, and the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.
This is a very exciting time for NHL fans and hockey fans in general. There is already debate about who the Golden Knights will draft in the upcoming expansion draft in the summer of 2017, where they will choose their team by choosing players from current NHL teams. It is already affecting teams now because teams can only protect a certain amount of players from being chosen and there is already talk of players being traded this season so that teams don’t lose them in the expansion draft.
Whether the expansion team in Las Vegas will affect well established teams like the Detroit Red Wings, remains a question. What is certain is that there will be more competition.