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NHL board of governors agree to take chance on Las Vegas expansion

Construction workers eat lunch by an MGM arena being built behind the New York-New York casino-hotel in Las Vegas on April 7, 2015. It's a big day for hockey fans in Las Vegas.The NHL board of governors is meeting today to vote on whether to expand the league to 31 teams.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Locher
June 22, 2016 - 3:00 PM

LAS VEGAS - The NHL is officially rolling the dice on Las Vegas.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league's board of governors has accepted an expansion bid from Las Vegas with the new team to begin play in the 2017-18 season.

He said Wednesday's vote was unanimous.

The decision means Quebec City is left out in the cold despite having a brand new arena as part of its application to become the 31st NHL franchise.

Joining the word's top hockey league doesn't come cheap — prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley will need to pay a US$500-million expansion fee to the NHL, which hasn't added a team since 2000.

Back then, Minnesota and Columbus paid $80 million each to join the league.

The Las Vegas bid says it has secured more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits for the new team, which will play in T-Mobile Arena, the sparkling new multipurpose building on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. The arena, which seats 17,500 for hockey, was built entirely with private money by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owners of the Los Angeles Kings.

"I think the potential is great here," Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said Tuesday in Vegas, the site of Wednesday's board meeting and annual player awards. "It's time for our league to expand. I think our game's going in the right direction. We've got labour peace, the salary cap's working well. All the positives are there for a chance for our game to grow."

The Las Vegas area had nearly 2.2 million people in the 2010 census, making it the largest population centre in the U.S. without a major pro sports franchise. Public support for Foley's bid was robust, and the NHL noticed the appeal of being the only major sports show in a town that loves a big event.

With its own brand new arena, Quebec City presented a strong bid for expansion, but NHL owners have expressed concerns about the strength of the Canadian dollar and a geographical imbalance if they add another team to the Eastern Conference, which currently has 16 teams to the West's 14.

"Quebec City's a great market for hockey — anywhere in Canada for that matter," said Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, a Quebec native. "At the same time I also understand it's a business."

Vegas is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but it has grown as a hockey town over the past 20 years since local youngsters like Jason Zucker, now with the Minnesota Wild, had to practise on one of the three rinks in town.

"It'll be an exciting place to come and play," said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. "It's obviously good for the league, good for the players — more jobs."

The IHL's Las Vegas Thunder attracted large crowds in the 1990s when they played at the Thomas and Mack Center, and the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers took the Thunder's place until 2014 while playing at the Orleans Arena.

Foley hasn't said what he will call his new team, but the bid is run by a company named Black Knight Sports and Entertainment, the same name as his financial services company.

— With files from The Associated Press and CP sports reporter Joshua Clipperton

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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