NHL writers weigh in on the Vegas Golden Knights – SB Nation
The Vegas Golden Knights are really going to be a thing, you guys. After 16 years, the NHL added its 31st team into the fold. Next season, we’ll be seeing a new team in a new arena play hockey in a city that hasn’t been touched by professional sports. Pretty exciting stuff, right?
Depends on who you ask. I am intrigued to see how a team does in the tourist area of Las Vegas — many people are. A lot of those fans, however, aren’t directly affected by the addition of a new team, unless their favorite gets taken in the expansion draft.
Those fans and teams in the Pacific Division, Vegas’ new home, will be seeing a lot of the Golden Knights. A new team in their division means another competitor for the playoffs, and potentially some bad blood along the way. Vegas will have a lot of challenges in its first few years as a franchise, but maybe one of the overlooked ones will be how it fits into the Pacific Division.
As such, we rounded up a group of writers from across SB Nation’s NHL Pacific Division team to talk about these growing pains. Here, in their words, is what they think life will be like with a new NHL team in their division.
First off, opening statements, everyone! What are your general feelings on a hockey team in Las Vegas personally and from the perspective of a fan of a Pacific Division team?
Kyle Westy, Nucks Misconduct: I am not a big fan of Hockey in Vegas. I am also not a big fan of hockey in other non-hockey markets, but I’m a hockey snob. The NHL has gone where other big professional leagues fear to go. I’m not sure how big the hockey betting market is, but I think it’s about to increase. I wonder how vigilant teams will be when it comes to player behavior. I understand the league wants 32 teams for conference balance, but I would have preferred a Seattle team to try to create a rivalry.
Ryan Batty, Copper and Blue: I’m not going to be that person that complains about expansion watering down the league and giving us a worse product to watch. It does that, but I’m not going to complain about it. And I’m not going to go full snooty-Canadian-who-thinks-he-owns-hockey and complain about putting a new team in a nontraditional hockey market either.
But Las Vegas? Really? I’ve been to Las Vegas. I’ve had some fun in Las Vegas. But nothing about the city struck me as a market where an NHL team is going to be successful. Ultimately it’s not my money, so if it fails I lose nothing, and I wish them well, but it just doesn’t seem like a plan that is likely to work out.
Jason Beisick, Matchsticks and Gasoline: Personally, I visited Las Vegas for the first time back in May, and it is 100 percent an entertainment town. Not only that, but it is chock full of Canadian and American tourists who would likely go watch a game while there. Now, while I think it will be good entertainment for the tourists, I don’t think it will get a very good draw from the local community. Hockey already plays second or even third fiddle to basketball and football in the United States, but at least on the plus side, there are no big-league basketball or football teams in the market to compete with.
Coming from the perspective of a fan of a Pacific Division team, I don’t think it will make much difference going from a seven-team division to an eight-team division, really.
Eric Kveton, Jewels from the Crown: Given that we’re only four hours away from Las Vegas — double that on a Friday afternoon, though — I think having an NHL team in Las Vegas is terrific. LA has had an annual preseason game called “Frozen Fury” in Vegas since 1997, and Kings fans have traditionally turned out in huge numbers for it. Giving Kings fans a chance to go to Vegas five times a year instead of just once? Oh, NHL, you shouldn’t have!
And from the perspective of a Pacific fan, I really just like putting a team in any location that annoys “traditional market” fans, and it’s a weaker team to add to the schedule. I’m all for it.
Sarah Hall, Five for Howling: As a Coyotes fan, this just shows that the NHL believes hockey can work in the desert. I love the idea — having more exposure in nontraditional hockey markets is what makes hockey great. They already have had an NHL game from Vegas, if they can grow that market as they are in Arizona. Hockey in the desert works, no doubt about it. I will protect this desert hockey team fiercely. Yes, even one that is not the Coyotes.
You guys represent a few of the seven teams of the Pacific Division, soon to be eight. Make your case that your team has the best claim to a budding rivalry with Las Vegas.
Westy: The only rivalry that I can see developing between Vancouver and Las Vegas is the battle to stay out of last place in the next few years. Vegas might be able to draft a team with four third lines, which might be enough to beat the Canucks some nights. It will be interesting to see which players get drafted by Vegas, which could create a dynamic of hatred between teams.
Batty: After 10 seasons of missing the playoffs, the only rivalry that still exists for the Oilers is with the Flames, and to a lesser extent (at least in my mind) the Canucks. In both cases there is a regional factor at play, something that isn’t going to exist with a team in Las Vegas — I assume. I’m actually really bad at geography.
That said, flights from Edmonton to Las Vegas tend to be pretty reasonable, so I expect there to be a lot of Oilers fans in attendance any time the two face off, and that could certainly help spur a rivalry.
Beisick: I think the Arizona Coyotes will be a big rival of the Las Vegas team for two reasons. One, because of geographic location. Only a few hours away from each other, both in the desert, both full of people with too much money to spend, etc. The other reason is they are both very similar in that they are both small-market teams in locations where hockey is probably the furthest thing from people’s minds.
Kveton: LA won’t see Vegas as a rival for a few years, but I do think the Kings will be Vegas’ most hated team almost immediately. Growing up going to Kings games, I hated nothing more than seeing the arena flooded with Red Wings fans, and I hated Detroit more than either the Ducks or Sharks for that reason. What are you doing here, and why are there so many of you?! I think Vegas will get tired of thousands of Kings fans at every LA game real quick, and thus hate! But once the Golden Knights start contending, I think there will be a decent rivalry in both directions.
Hall: Obviously, it should be the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are used to the hot weather and distractions of shiny nightlife. Call it the Future 11 Corridor Challenge (OK, that’s more of a local reference), the Rumble in the Desert, or something like that. Being only four and a half hours away from Vegas, Coyotes fans will travel to the games. They travel well to the SoCal games, as well. A desert rivalry makes the most sense!
Who’s the one player on your team who you would hate to lose to Vegas at the expansion draft? A friendly reminder that you would have to see them four or five times a season at the other end of the ice.
Westy: I still wonder who the Canucks will trade at the deadline. But the one player I could see being around after the deadline, possibly that might get picked up, would be Alexander Edler. I actually hope the Canucks trade him for a high pick, but I am used to disappointment. Edler might shine in a city where the media doesn’t care how many sticks you broke on the PP. His skating and shot would be something I would hate to see four to five times a year.
But if karma really is after the Canucks, then Luca Sbisa gets picked up by Vegas and has career nights against the Canucks for years to come.
Batty: Probably Brandon Davidson. One of the many problems with the Oilers rebuild has been the team’s inability to develop almost any player not drafted in the first round, and even that has proven to be difficult at times. Davidson broke the mold, though. Drafted in the sixth round in 2010, Davidson had a path to the NHL that was long with stops in both the ECHL and the AHL, but he finally arrived in the NHL on a full-time basis last season.
So far this year he’s been unable to build on that breakout season, though, as he’s been on the sidelines so far this year with a concussion, and more and more it looks like he won’t be protected. Losing him wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if he gets claimed he’ll be a five-times-a-year reminder of the Oilers’ struggles with developing prospects to fill out their roster.
Beisick: Besides the obvious players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano, who can’t be taken in the expansion draft anyway, I would hate to lose a guy like Matt Stajan. Matt is still a good utility player who is still very helpful, in my opinion, if put up on a top line. Of course, it’s never good losing any player to a division rival because that player knows your system and knows all of your tricks and game secrets, for lack of better terms. I would also fear losing a big presence like a Deryk Engelland or Micheal Ferland.
Kveton: Brayden McNabb. The Kings have three excellent defensemen, and unless they leave a few extra forwards exposed via the eight-skater rule, McNabb is the odd man out. He’s become a legitimate top-four guy, and the Kings won’t be able to replace him on the cheap. Plus, he hits people hard. Very hard.
Hall: Brad Richardson for sure. He is a strong third- or fourth-line center who can kill penalties and has a good face-off percentage. Most of the Coyotes’ young players who are part of the rebuild are exempt from the draft. Martin Hanzal would be another name thrown out there, but he is a UFA, so they could just sign him in their special signing period.