The National Hockey League apparently is set to expand for the first time since 2000, adding Las Vegas as its 31st team.
The Associated Press first reported Tuesday that the NHL will award an expansion team to Las Vegas. The AP, basing its report on an unnamed league source, said the expansion fee would be $500 million and that the team, expected to be named the Black Knights, would not begin play until the 2017-18 season.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and other media outlets later confirmed the NHL’s executive committee unanimously recommended the Las Vegas expansion bid, also citing unnamed sources. A two-third’s majority of the league’s 30 teams is required for final approval and the vote is expected June 22 at the NHL board of governors meeting.
In recent months, there had been speculation about what the NHL would decide – whether to expand or possibly postpone expansion. There also have been rumors about how either decision might affect the Carolina Hurricanes.
With ownership groups in Las Vegas and Quebec City making expansion bids, there was speculation if one of the cities was left out, the ownership group there might look to buy the controlling interest in the Hurricanes from owner Peter Karmanos Jr. and seek a relocation. With Las Vegas considered the frontrunner for an expansion franchise, there was a growing belief in Quebec City that Quebecor, the media company backing the city’s expansion bid, might make a play for the Canes.
Other speculation, spread on social media, had the NHL postponing expansion this year and the Canes possibly being bought and moved to Las Vegas.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, looking to emphatically squelch all rumors concerning the Hurricanes, said last week, “I don’t see the Hurricanes relocating, period.”
Bettman called Karmanos a terrific owner and the Triangle a terrific market, noting the constant rumors about a possible move was unfair to Canes fans and was “completely unfounded.”
Karmanos has said he would like to sell his majority share in the team as part of a “succession” plan that would have his involvement with the team continue for a few more years. Bettman indicated last week Karmanos might be looking to add an ownership partner.
The NHL last expanded in 2000, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets each paid an $80 million expansion fee. In the fall of 1996 and early 1997, Raleigh made a bid for an NHL expansion team, but the ownership group headed by Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates later withdrew the bid.
Raleigh did gets its team. Later in 1997, Karmanos moved the Hartford Whalers to the Triangle and renamed them the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Las Vegas area, with 2.2 million people, is the largest population center in the U.S. without a major league franchise, the AP reported.
Billionaire businessman Bill Foley would be the Las Vegas team owner. As part of the city’s expansion bid, Foley said more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits have been made and touted the fact the team would play in T-Mobile Arena, a 17,500-seat arena that opened April 6 and was built on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip.
The AP reported NHL owners had concerns about the bid made by Quebec City, including questions about the strength of the Canadian dollar and about adding another Eastern team. The NHL currently has 16 Eastern Conference teams and 14 in the Western Conference.