Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Wednesday in the ballroom of Encore at Wynn Las Vegas that the League has granted an expansion franchise to Las Vegas that will start playing as its 31st team in the 2017-18 season. The Las Vegas franchise was approved in a unanimous vote conducted during the Board of Governors meeting here Wednesday.
The NHL becomes the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to put a team in Las Vegas. This will be the NHL's first expansion team since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild came into the League in the 2000-01 season.
The League will receive a $500 million expansion fee from Bill Foley, the billionaire businessman who spearheaded the Las Vegas expansion bid and will be the franchise's principal owner. The $500 million will be distributed equally among the existing 30 teams.
The approval of the Las Vegas franchise comes two days prior to the one-year anniversary of the NHL announcing the Board of Governors authorized a formal expansion process.
"The name of Bill's website was VegasWantsHockey.com," Commissioner Bettman said. "Starting today, Vegas has hockey, NHL hockey."
Foley said he hopes to have the name of the team and its logo in place by the start of the 2016-17 season so they can start selling merchandise. He said his preference is Black Knights, largely because of his ties to the U.S. Military Academy as a West Point graduate, but the plan is to work with the NHL to come up with the appropriate name for the franchise.
"Our great sports town now has a major league franchise, the NHL," Foley said. "It's the best of the leagues. It's a legendary league. Las Vegas is my home along with 2.3 million other people. We want everyone to be a fan. We're dedicated to it. We'll leave no stone unturned in our dedication and our pursuit of hockey here in Las Vegas, not just for our team, but for the community."
The Board of Governors also voted to defer the application for an expansion team from Quebecor Inc., which maintains the goal of bringing NHL hockey back to Quebec City.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there is no formal plan at this point for recycling back to the Quebec City application. Commissioner Bettman said relocation of another franchise to Quebec City is not being considered.
"There is no doubt as to the passion for hockey, particularly NHL hockey, in Quebec City," Commissioner Bettman said. "There is no doubt as to the suitability of Videotron Centre as a home arena for a team. And there is no doubt regarding the ownership credentials or the eagerness to own an NHL team of Quebecor, which has been an outstanding league partner. These components, the ones within the control of the Quebec City applicant, are first-rate. The decision to defer, however, were based on elements over which Quebec City and the Quebec City group had no control whatsoever."
Such factors include the League's geographic imbalance within the conferences, the difficulty of bringing two new teams in at the same time, and the struggling Canadian dollar, which was trading at 78 cents on the U.S. dollar on Wednesday.
Las Vegas will be the eighth team in the Pacific Division and the 15th in the Western Conference. The NHL has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference. Commissioner Bettman and Daly each stressed the importance for balance within the conferences.
"What we have to understand from the words, or being on hold, is that we'll keep a discussion with the NHL," said Pierre Dion, Quebecor's chief executive officer and president. "We're very close to them, we have a great relationship with them, so we'll keep talking. That's how we have to interpret the 'deferred' and 'on hold.'"
The Las Vegas team will play its home games at T-Mobile Arena, which is located just west of the famed Las Vegas Strip. The arena opened in April and can hold 17,368 for a hockey game.
"It is a great venue and it was built with hockey in mind," Commissioner Bettman said.
Las Vegas has received more than 14,000 deposits for season tickets and has sold all of the luxury seats in T-Mobile Arena since Foley launched a season-ticket drive 16 months ago. Foley said they sold roughly 400 more season tickets in the past week.
Foley said he expects 85 percent to 90 percent of the crowds to be season-ticket holders.
"I'm convinced we're going to be full every night, and particularly after a year or two when we've really demonstrated a real winning attitude and we are performing on behalf of the city of Las Vegas," Foley said.
Foley said he will work quickly to establish a hockey operations department. He stressed that he will work with the NHL to understand the rules that are in place so the Las Vegas franchise is in compliance and not tampering.
"You'll see a lot of action here over the next 30 days, 45 days, but we want to be careful on how we do it," Foley said. "We don't want to tamper. We want to work with the League and get a lot of advice."
In addition, the NHL announced the rules for the expansion draft that will take place next summer to create the Las Vegas team. The goal for the expansion draft is to give the Las Vegas franchise the best chance to be successful immediately.
"The team coming into the most competitive league in sports will have a roster that will be competitive more quickly than prior expansions," Commissioner Bettman said.
To get there, Las Vegas must select one player from each of the existing 30 teams, including at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. It must select a minimum of 20 players who have existing contracts that carry through the 2017-18 season and the average annual value of the total contracts it takes on must be at least 60 percent of the 2016-17 season salary-cap limit, which is $73 million.
The earliest Las Vegas can buy out any of the contracts it takes on is the summer of 2018.
The existing 30 teams will have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and one goalie, from the expansion draft.
Any player with a "no movement" clause in his contract at the time of the expansion draft must be protected and will count toward his team's protection limits unless the player agrees to waive his no-movement clause.
Teams have to submit their protection lists by 5 p.m. ET on June 17, 2017. Las Vegas has to submit its selections for the expansion draft by 5 p.m. ET on June 20. The results of the expansion draft will be released publicly on June 21.
All forwards and defensemen exposed for the draft must be under contract for the 2017-18 season. Teams must expose a minimum of one defenseman and two forwards who played 40 or more games in the 2016-17 season, or 70 or more games in the previous two seasons.
Goalies exposed for the draft can either be under contract for the 2017-18 season or scheduled to become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017. In order to expose a goalie entering RFA status, the team must extend him his qualifying offer before submitting its protection list.
All first- and second-year pros and all unsigned draft picks are exempt from the expansion draft and will not have to be protected.
Las Vegas will be inserted into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery with the same odds as the team that finishes with the third fewest points in the 2016-17 season. It will be guaranteed to have no lower than the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and will own the third pick in each subsequent round.
"This is Las Vegas' team," Foley said. "We have 2.2 or 2.3 million local residents and we sold 14,000 season tickets with season-ticket deposits when we didn't have a team and we didn't have an arena. That is the kind of level of dedication that the people of Las Vegas have shown in support of NHL hockey. It went a long way for us to making progress with the NHL.
"Las Vegas is hockey-ready. We're convinced of it. We know it."