For years now, Gary Bettman has politely rebuffed inquiries about possible NHL expansion, saying that the league was always listening to pitches, but that it wasn't at a point where it was willing to seriously consider welcoming any new members to the family.
Writing in The Province, Tony Gallagher says that stance has changed. Expansion he says is not only happening, but in one of the unlikeliest of destinations:
Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City.
Gallagher then goes on to suggest the league might be hard-pressed to limit expansion to just two teams. One of the other new franchises, presumably, would land in Seattle, a city that has been at the center of expansion rumors for the past year. Vancouver-born billionaire Victor Coleman has been identified as someone interested in bringing an NHL club to the Pacific Northwest.
Quebec City—with an NHL-ready arena set to open in 2015, and with Pierre-Karl Peladeau, an obvious owner-in-waiting—also would be a favorite.
While those two cities and their lengthy ties to the sport would be logical choices, it's the possibility of pucks in Vegas that really catches the eye ... and draws out the snarky naysayers.
To be fair, the skeptics can make a decent argument. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to scoff at the idea of putting another team in the desert, among them a transient population, a sea of competing entertainment options and a work force geared heavily toward the night shift.
And then there's that whole gambling thing.
Maybe that's reason enough that Vegas shouldn't happen. But give the commissioner credit. Bettman has had the vision and the courage to put teams in locations his predecessors never would have considered. Once in place, he's laid everything on the line, including his own political credit, to help them survive. And in many of those locales the game has thrived, planting the kind of roots that gives teams a legitimate chance of long-term success.
Seeing a green light where others see red has been one of the defining characteristics of Bettman's regime. But he's not in the habit of making decisions to secure his legacy, or to say he was the first to plant a flag in soil other leagues see as salted. If there's even a chance he'll say yes when everyone else is saying no, it's because all the pieces are in place. The arena. The ownership. The corporate support. The season ticket base.
At this point all we have is one report, not streaming footage of a press conference, so maybe we should all double down on taking this news with a grain of salt. But if there's anything to this report, if Gary really believes that Vegas is ready for the NHL—and vice versa—maybe we all should just listen to the man.
UPDATE: Though Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is denying the Las Vegas rumor, at least one veteran NHLer seems to like a Sin City team's chances: