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Las Vegas franchise expects to win quickly

Owner, general manager believe expansion draft will make team competitive immediately

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- The first question was about, of course, the name.

Bill Foley, the owner of the Las Vegas expansion franchise that will join the NHL next season, sat on stage with George McPhee, his general manager, at Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena on Saturday before the Los Angeles Kings played the Colorado Avalanche in a preseason game.

Fans had been listening to music, playing street hockey and getting autographs from former NHL players. Now they lined up along a fence to ask questions about Las Vegas' first major-league professional sports franchise.

"When can we really expect the team name?" the first fan asked.

Foley smiled. He knew it was coming. He said the name and logo had been picked and the team colors were "probably about four or five days away" from being finalized.

"I think George knows the name," Foley joked. "I'm not sure if George even knows."

"I know the name, but I haven't told my wife," McPhee told the fans. "I haven't told my kids. So I'm not telling you. If you don't tell anybody, you never have to worry about it."

Foley has said the team will be called the Desert, Silver or Golden Knights, and the colors will include gray, gold and a red-rock hue from the Nevada landscape. But he wants everything to be just right, and he wants merchandise ready for the announcement. He said the team was shooting for Nov. 18 to hold an event at Toshiba Plaza.

"Our goal is really to … have a logo and a name that gives us the ability to create a culture around this team that will be built here for years and years and years to come," Foley said. "If anything, that's why I've been a little bit [particular] about this, kind of waiting and waiting and trying to refine and refine. So I appreciate everyone's patience. We're very close."

The rest of the questions covered all kinds of topics, from whether the team will be on local TV (yes), to whether practices will be open at the new facility being built (yes), to whether the team would be open to an outdoor game (of course), to when a youth hockey program will start (next fall), to when games will be scheduled considering the unusual shifts of many workers in town.

Foley said T-Mobile Arena already had reserved many Saturday and Sunday dates that would be "convenient to local Vegas residents" -- and maybe, well, inconvenient to opposing teams.

"We don't mind having Sunday afternoon games," Foley said, smiling, "because if the guys come in on Saturday night at 2 a.m. and they might go out and they might stay out a little late and then we play at 1 in the afternoon … I can see a very strong home record here. Very strong."

Fans also dug into how this team will be built. What is McPhee's philosophy? When will he hire a coach? How will he handle the expansion and entry drafts? Will Las Vegas have its own American Hockey League affiliate?

"You have speed and skill, and you have size and you have grit, and you have character and leadership," McPhee said. "So we're going to just build the best darn team we can build and have all those elements, because ultimately to be able to win, you have to be able to beat a bunch of good teams that play different styles."

McPhee said he planned to hire a coach in the spring, when more candidates would become available, and to take the best players available in the expansion draft.

"Ideally you want a younger team to work with, but we're going to take the most valuable assets that we can get, because if they can't play for us, they can play for someone else and we can turn those into even more assets," McPhee said. "Looking forward to it. It's going to be quite a process. We're going to end up with a real nice hockey club from the expansion draft, and then we're going to build through the entry draft."

Foley said Las Vegas would be No. 3 in the draft lottery. Odds are, it will stay at No. 3, but it could drop as low as No. 6 or rise as high as No. 1.

"We're pretty lucky here in Las Vegas," Foley said, smiling. "I've got a feeling we'll be No. 1."

No rush on an AHL team.

"Most of our prospects will still be at the junior and college level, so there's really no need to fill out an entire team," McPhee said. "We'll have six or eight guys that we can call up if we get banged up. But we'll share for a couple years and then we'll hone in on a place and see if we can have our own club."

Foley and McPhee continued to make one thing clear: They want to win the Stanley Cup, and they want to do it quickly. They feel Las Vegas will be a favored destination for players.

"I think they're going to love it here," McPhee said. "Why wouldn't you want to come here? Seriously. Why wouldn't you want to live here?"

The fans cheered.

"It's a fantastic place to live and work," McPhee continued. "Whether you want to live down here on The Strip or live out in the suburbs, there are great places to live. We have great facilities, great ownership. Easy to get around. Lovely people in this community. Really, really nice people here.

"So I think it's going to be a fantastic place to play, and our objective is to win quickly and to ultimately win the Stanley Cup. Players will go anywhere if it's a good team to win a Cup, and they're certainly going to want to come here, because it's better than a lot of places."

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