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Las Vegas 'great atmosphere' for NHL team

Players, coaches, executives like idea of city getting expansion club; vote set for Wednesday

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

LAS VEGAS -- The prospect of the NHL adding an expansion team in Las Vegas has players, coaches and executives excited about what could be coming, curious about how it will work and even a little fearful of the enticing temptations that could await them here.

"The potential is great," Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said.

The NHL could be on the verge of finding out how great it is with the Board of Governors scheduled to vote on giving Las Vegas an expansion team during its meeting here Wednesday prior to the NHL Awards (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, Sportsnet). 

"My former boss, [Carolina Hurricanes owner] Peter Karmanos, has talked about Las Vegas for 10 years," said Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who like Nill is a finalist for the General Manager of the Year Award. "He's just liked the market a lot because it's such a growing market, a lot of hockey interest here and he's always felt this would be a great place for a team. So here we are, a day away."

Video: Rutherford talks to the media at the NHL Awards

Although it's not official, the idea of Las Vegas being the NHL's newest market, and the concept of the NHL being the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to plant a team here, was the talk of NHL Awards media day Tuesday.

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz compared the prospect of what could be in Las Vegas with what he saw happen as the coach of the Nashville Predators when they came into the League in 1998.

"Over time what will happen is it will galvanize the community because they will have their own professional team," said Trotz, who is up for the Jack Adams Award. "It'll be good for the local people. I think everybody in Vegas who lives here probably is looking for that team they can cheer for, a team they can call their own and a team that can be sort of community-based because right now they only have UNLV."

Trotz saw that happen in Nashville, which was a new market for major pro sports in 1998, when the Predators and the NFL's Tennessee Oilers (now the Titans) arrived. He also saw how the Predators used the benefits of their market to boost their in-game entertainment.

Vince Gill was an original Predators season ticket holder, and other country music stars came through Bridgestone Arena, melding what Nashville is most known for with its burgeoning hockey team.

There's obviously plenty of opportunity for a team in Las Vegas to do the same.

"I think our game sells itself because it's very entertaining, but when I was in Nashville we could have the best game presentation because of the talent that is there," Trotz said. "We might not have been the best team, but we probably had the best game ops in the League and it forced every other team to up the ante when it came to that. I think Vegas will do that right off the hop."

Trotz sees the potential for similarities between Nashville and Las Vegas based on the proximity of the arenas to nightlife. 

T-Mobile Arena, which opened April 6 and is the would-be home of the Las Vegas franchise, is one block west of the famed Las Vegas Strip, giving fans the opportunity to enjoy what Vegas has to offer before and after games. 

The Predators' home, Bridgestone Arena, opens up to Broadway, Nashville's main strip, giving fans the chance to pour into the bars and restaurants.

"You're going to have a lot of similar things here," Trotz said. "And I think you're going to have great energy with people coming off the strip. I know in Nashville, especially on the weekends, they've had dinner, they've had some drinks and they're going with great energy into a game. I think you're going to get a lot of that here."

The players like the idea of Vegas being an NHL city because of its attractions away from the rink. Many even joked that a team in Las Vegas would have a good home record because of that.

"Guys will enjoy coming here," said New York Islanders forward Matt Martin, who is up for the NHL Foundation Award. "Great restaurants. It will be a great atmosphere, not only to play hockey, but for us to come into and be a part of."

"I don't think you kind of envision ever playing hockey in a place like this," said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, a Hart Trophy finalist.

Considering the environment here, one of the main questions being asked of the players, coaches and executives was how they will handle road trips here.

Trotz said he thought about that as he was flying into Vegas on Monday.

"It'll be very hard to keep teams focused the first time through," Trotz said. "Teams that are out west that will be playing here all the time it'll be old hat, but first time through, it'll be just like everybody coming to Nashville. I'd practice hard the day before, come here, do a workout and let the guys have the day to let the guys do Vegas."

Stars coach Lindy Ruff, who is also up for the Jack Adams Award, joked that he'd prefer to have Vegas be the first stop on a back-to-back set, so it's a quick in-and-out trip. 

"But our players are professionals and they understand what to do," he said.

Ruff said he wouldn't view Vegas as being any different from taking a team to New York or Nashville or Los Angeles.

"We're all adults, we're all professionals," said Stars captain Jamie Benn, a Hart Trophy finalist. "It's an exciting city to come into, but we're coming in here to do a job and at that time it's going to be to win a hockey game."

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