The NHL's Las Vegas expansion team ticket drive has slowed, but the outlook is still hopeful; Rangers-Islanders rivalry resumes for a final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum.
Off The Draw
Ideally, this would have worked out differently.
In a perfect world there would have been 10,000 fans (and then some) waiting with cash in hand, eager to plunk down deposits to reserve season tickets for a possible NHL team in Las Vegas. It would have taken a matter of hours—or even minutes, as it did in Winnipeg before the Atlanta Thrashers received the league’s approval to relocate there—allaying all concerns about the viability of hockey in the middle of the Nevada desert and fast-tracking the franchise for approval.
Instead, the folks behind the Vegas bid were forced to issue a press release on Monday that expressed their enthusiasm about reaching the 8,000-commitment mark … 27 days after they made a splash by getting 5,000 ticket reservations in the first 36 hours of their ticket drive.
“This announcement is great news,” Bill Foley, the potential majority owner of the franchise, said in the statement. “The goal of the season ticket drive is to demonstrate the long-term viability of an NHL franchise in Las Vegas. Securing more than 8,000 season ticket deposits—in less than one month—helps demonstrate that Las Vegas wants hockey. There is significant momentum in this campaign and we are looking forward to the day we can announce that we have hit our goal of securing 10,000 season ticket deposits.”
Foley’s definition of “significant momentum” might differ from your’s and mine. After all, at this rate we’re probably looking at another six to eight weeks before his group closes in on their goal.
But there’s no denying that they are closing in. And that’s a huge win for the Vegas campaign, because in the end it won’t matter whether it got those commitments in three hours or three months. This is all about the result, not the journey. As long as the support for a team eventually reveals itself, the NHL is coming to town.
Sure, the slowing pace of commitments suggests that the campaign still has some work to do, both in raising awareness now and in fan retention later on. There’s clearly some skepticism about hockey in Sin City, something that might become an issue down the road. But it’s worth noting that those 8,000 commitments represent real people, not casinos, buying into the dream. That has to please the league. NHL officials have kept their own expectations for this ticket drive quiet, but they want locals to have a significant presence in the new MGM Grand arena before the casinos fill in the blanks with tourist comps.
“If you look at it through that lens, I think the response has been good,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last week. “Because if you add to that what they probably have already in corporate and casino commitments, they basically have a full building.”
That’s a pretty powerful endorsement, one that suggests there might even be some wiggle room on that 10,000-ticket goal. And by offering support now, Daly has given the organizers a pretty powerful marketing tool for the home stretch. “If you were on the fence before,” they can say, “the time to climb off is now. This is really happening … and this is your chance to be part of something special.”
So maybe the path to 10,000 hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. But organizers are clearly on target for a storybook ending: the announcement of franchise approval at the 2015 NHL Awards on June 24 in Las Vegas.
What to watch tonight
The latest installment of this epic rivalry will have extra significance on Tuesday night. Along with a potential four-point swing atop the Metropolitan Division, this game marks the final regular-season meeting between the two teams at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And if it’s anything like the last one—a wild 6–5 comeback victory by the Rangers on Feb. 16—it’ll be a beauty.
The Isles come into this contest off a gritty 4–3 OT victory over the Maple Leafs last night. New York came back twice from two-goal deficits before center John Tavares, who leads the NHL in points, scored the winner with 22 seconds left in the extra frame. The captain has scored in three of the four previous meetings between the teams this season, and will be front and center tonight. So will his wingman, Kyle Okposo, who will be seeing his first action since he suffered a detached retina on Jan. 19. Jaroslav Halak will get the start in net after yielding to Michal Neuvirth against Toronto. Halak is 3-1-0 against the Blueshirts this season, with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
The Rangers will answer with Cam Talbot in net. He has been brilliant in his last three starts (2-0-1, .965 save percentage), but Talbot wasn't particularly sharp in the 6–5 win over the Isles last month. Hardnosed winger Tanner Glass is expected to dress in place of James Sheppard, an indication perhaps that the Rangers are anticipating that tempers could flare. Just one more reason to watch.
Rest of the schedule: Stars at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; FS-SW+, CSN-PH); Blue Jackets at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, FS-CR); Lightning at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; SUN, RDS, SNE); Bruins at Senators (7:30 p.m. EST; NESN, RDS2, TSN5); Jets at Blues (8 p.m. EST; TSN3, FS-MW); Devils at Wild (8 p.m. EST; MSG+ 2, FS-N, FS-WI); Kings at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; NBCSN, SNW, SNP)
What you missed
• That Tavares kid who plays for the Islanders is pretty good, judging by this nifty tally.
• Minnesota’s popular high school tournament has become a showcase for the state’s finest hockey hair.
The numbers game
• Of the 991 games that have been played in the NHL so far this season, 577 (58.2%) have been decided by one goal or two due to an empty-net score.
• Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has tied a franchise mark of six straight seasons with at least 20 wins. He joins Harry Lumley (1944–45 through ’49–50) and Chris Osgood (’95–96 through 2000–01) in the team’s record book. Howard is also one of only four goalies to have won 20 or more games in each of the last six or more seasons. The others: Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers (10 straight), Marc-André Fleury of the Penguins (7) and Antti Niemi of the Sharks (6).
• The Islanders are at least 22 games over .500 for the first time since they went 50-26-4 in 1983–84. That team lost in the Stanley Cup finals to Wayne Gretzky’s budding Oilers dynasty after a run of four straight championships.
• A CBA loophole could lead to Columbus losing a potential top-pairing defenseman.
• Will a second playoff DNQ in three years mark the end of the line for Craig Berube in Philadelphia? It seems more like a talent issue than a problem with coaching, but if the rumors of internal unrest are true it might be hard to justify bringing him back.
• For the first time all season, one of these didn’t go the Ducks’ way.
• This should possibly be a cause for concern as Detroit rolls toward a playoff berth in the Atlantic Division.