LAS VEGAS, Nev. - This week, Las Vegas hopes to shine bright as the centre of the hockey universe.
With expansion buzz impossible to ignore, Sin City welcomes the NHL this week for yet another awards show. But most importantly general managers and the board of governors meet to determine the league's short- and long-term future.
The hockey world will be in town to see Las Vegas at its sizzling finest.
"Big events and hospitality is what we do," Cara Clarke of the Las Vegas Metro chamber of commerce said. "That's Las Vegas."
For the first time, GMs will meet in Las Vegas and at an opportune time for trade talk leading up to this weekend's draft in Sunrise, Fla. Previously they met at the Stanley Cup final.
With the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams up against the salary cap, the landscape is primed for movement.
"Everybody sort of trying to get a real good solid view of the landscape ahead of each and every one of us heading into the draft," Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney said on a conference call last week. "I think everybody is sort of in the same boat and taking inventory."
On Tuesday the GMs will find out the salary cap for next season, which commissioner Gary Bettman projected to be somewhere in the US$70-71 million range. Even that small a range "can make a difference" for cap-strapped teams, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Friday.
No matter where the cap is, players will be on the move The Blackhawks could look to shed the contracts of Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell, the Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to try to deal Phil Kessel, and the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are among the teams with goaltenders to trade.
The Cup-champion Blackhawks may be among the most active teams in the trade market given they need to sign Brandon Saad to a new contract and don't have much room to spare.
"I've been thinking of that stuff for a long time," GM Stan Bowman said after his team won the Cup for the third time in six years. "We'll make it work. We've got a plan in place."
At the board of governors meeting Wednesday, rule changes like three-on-three overtime and a coach's challenge system need to get the final stamp of approval. But the biggest deal is the discussion of possible expansion.
The board in December allowed prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley to go ahead with a season-ticket drive. With Foley's Hockey Vision Las Vegas reporting over 11,500 commitments and more for suites, Bettman will take those results to the board of governors.
"If the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process," Bettman said in Tampa, Fla., at the start of the Cup final. "The board may say, 'That's interesting, but we still don't want to do anything.' That's an option."
This week is a chance for league executives, owners and GMs to get a feel for Las Vegas, even if the temperature soars above 40 degrees. The state-of-the-art arena, slated to open in spring 2016, will be on the strip a short walk from the MGM Grand, which will house the awards show Wednesday.
Clarke, senior director of communications for the Las Vegas chamber of commerce, said the area is still growing and developing but has shown through various events it's a sports town. The last professional league to put a team there was the CFL, and the Las Vegas Posse lasted one season in 1994.
This is the sixth NHL awards show in Las Vegas but the first since the city moved to the front of the line for expansion. Bettman and the hockey community can expect to hear plenty about that this week.
"As I talk to people they say, 'Yeah, I love Las Vegas. I miss professional sports,'" Clarke said in a phone interview last week. "I think this team, if we get the announcement that's positive, I think that's going to be so exciting for our community and probably an indication of how far we're coming as a metropolitan area."
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