It’s 116 degrees in the ice hockey capital of the world.
For the next few days, Las Vegas is the place to be on skates. The desert gambling mecca is hosting the NHL’s annual postseason awards show on Wednesday, when the league also will reveal the Vegas Golden Knights’ choices in the expansion player draft to stock the club with talent for its inaugural season in the fall.
Las Vegas has hosted the awards show for several years, welcoming the NHL’s best for a red carpet presentation and a short week of partying in a city that knows a little something about entertainment.
But Vegas’ hometown team is in the spotlight for the first time this year, reaching a major milestone in its process of becoming the NHL’s 31st franchise – and doing it during a heat wave.
Combining the awards show and the expansion draft should only enhance the fun for Vegas fans welcoming their city’s first major professional sports team. Thousands of those fans are expected to gather at T-Mobile Arena after the expansion draft for a raucous “Round Table Rally” to celebrate the Golden Knights’ first major acquisitions.
“You don’t always have to do things the same way,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of the two-for-one Vegas show. “We’re not afraid to try something a little different. We think it’s going to be a lot of fun for our fans, particularly those here in Las Vegas.”
The Golden Knights have an NHL-ready arena, a veteran front office, an eager coaching staff, an eye-catching logo and positive momentum in their new community. This week, they’ll finally have one player apiece from the other 30 clubs, putting recognizable faces on the franchise for the first time.
The expansion draft affects every team in the league, so many of the stars convening in Vegas will be paying close attention to the names of the teammates they’ll be losing to Sin City.
“I think we’re going to talk about the awards, but not as much as we’re going to talk about the expansion draft and who got picked and who didn’t, and what the team’s going to look like,” Boston forward Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s definitely exciting to be here and to see it firsthand.”
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley paid a whopping $500 million as an expansion fee for the privilege of owning an NHL franchise. The league subsequently structured the expansion draft in a way that essentially creates more chances for Vegas to grab quality pros from the rest of the league.
Big names with bad contracts are available in abundance, but general manager George McPhee is likely to structure the core of a young, hard-hitting team from the available talent. General managers around the league have frantically negotiated with McPhee in recent weeks to keep their most valued unprotected players through side trades, but not every team has enough assets to do so.
“I’m very interested to see the kind of price teams paid, and to see what the currency on the market is,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “But also, you’re going to see how teams you compete against are affected or not affected. We’re fortunate in our situation. With so many young players, we’re not affected the way some teams are. But lots of teams are going to lose good players. Now do they make a deal and lose more, or did they not and just watch and see it happen?”