By Dan Marrazza As one Wayne, Gretzky, helped close an old NHL building in Edmonton on Wednesday, another Wayne, Newton, helped open what could be the next new NHL arena in Las Vegas. With the legendary singer serving as the opening act for The Killers in a concert that christened the sparkling new T-Mobile Arena, there was hardly a hockey puck nor sliver of ice in sight. Yet what the new Las Vegas arena’s grand opening lacked in NHL presence, it made up for in significance to Sin City’s bid for its first-ever major league sports franchise. “Obviously, this is a culmination of many years of hard work by a lot of people,” AEG Senior Vice President Mark Faber said. “It was built around 100 events annually: concerts, family shows, boxing, UFC, award shows. The icing on the cake would be an NHL team. That would be our gravy for this particular facility.”
Of course, the NHL hasn’t given any indication exactly when, or if, Las Vegas will be granted a franchise that would presumably begin play for the 2017-18 season. What we know is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has named this June as the absolute latest date that decisions would be made on Las Vegas and Quebec City’s expansion bids. Whether or not Las Vegas gets a team remains a discussion for another day. Today, the story is that Las Vegas’ long-awaited 17,500-seat (for hockey) arena, partnered on by MGM and AEG in conjunction with billionaire Bill Foley’s bid for an NHL franchise, is open and looking poised to become one of the league’s gem facilities. And with the NHL’s two primary requirements to consider an expansion bid – stable ownership and a suitable arena – now met, in addition to 13,500 deposits for season tickets, Las Vegas’ bid for NHL hockey now officially includes everything the league is looking for in a franchise. Not to mention, the sworn support of two of the most marketing-savvy companies in North America. “If it happens, if it gets approved, we are as vested as they are to make sure that’s successful,” AEG President Dan Beckerman said. “We’ll be partners with them to ensure their success on the marketing side, the ticket sales side, on the premium side, on the sponsorship side. We’re going to be vested with them to make sure they’re successful and that this is successful as an arena.” Although now open, the would-be NHL arena won’t host a hockey game until the Los Angeles Kings shift their annual Frozen Fury preseason games from the MGM Grand Garden Arena to T-Mobile Arena this October. After reviewing and touring the facility during its opening week, a few things stick out. --The seating bowl would be one of the more intimate setups in the NHL. While the arena architects mostly toured Staples Center, Consol Energy Center and Bridgestone Arena, among others, for a model, the bowl is reminiscent of MTS Centre in Winnipeg, albeit a bit larger.
--The one thing that really separates Las Vegas’ seating bowl from Winnipeg’s, for example, is two massive triangular platforms that jut out of two corners of the arena, hanging over the top of the upper deck. These platforms create a signature look for the arena bowl and are part of a nightclub that would run above the upper deck, behind one of the nets. While the arena, similar to many new venues, has a handful of clubs mostly for VIPs, this club – and access to the one-of-a-kind view from the triangular platforms – will be open to a general admission crowd. --Two days before T-Mobile Arena opened on Wednesday, a dining and entertainment complex opened just outside the arena. Called “The Park” and mostly consisting of bars and restaurants – a 5,000-seat theatre will also open on this land later this year – it’s about a five-minute walk from one end to the other, connecting T-Mobile Arena and the Las Vegas Strip. The Park sits between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotels. --The two sections of the arena that are not yet finished are the home, hockey-specific dressing rooms (the visitor’s room and basketball locker rooms are already complete) and the ice hasn’t been installed. Although based on the layout, it can already be seen how an extreme VIP club – a who’s who of Las Vegas society – will sit across the hall from home team dressing room. As hockey players would walk to the ice, they could be surrounded by Vegas-style VIPs and high-rollers, which could be an interesting sight. At the end of the day, however, the success of the venue would be more contingent on how large of a crowd fills T-Mobile Arena, rather than the facility itself. However, its opening is another piece of the puzzle that had to be put in place to meet the NHL expansion committee’s demands. And with this piece of the puzzle in place, Las Vegas’ NHL bid only has one thing left to do: wait for an answer.