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As NHL gathers for All-Star Game, Las Vegas remains in holding pattern

2015Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance Dinner

Steve Marcus

Prospective NHL owner Bill Foley II speaks during the annual Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance dinner at Aria Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.

The NHL to Las Vegas movement started with a lot of optimism, but as the league holds its All-Star Game in Nashville this weekend, it’s hard to figure out how excited or frustrated local supporters should be.

Led by billionaire Bill Foley, Las Vegas has been ready to get started for months now. The prospective franchise home, T-Mobile Arena, is set to open in a little more than two months behind the New York-New York, and plans for a practice facility and much more are just waiting for the green light.

But that light has been stuck on yellow for a long time, and as each meeting passes without any real update it gets more difficult to predict whether it’s going to flip to green or red. This weekend is another one of those potential milestones that should worry supporters, because in October, Foley said that if he doesn’t get the team in January or February it would be hard to get ready in time for the 2017-18 season.

Here’s a look at some of the key events over the past two years that have led to this uncertain position:

March 2014 — Bettman meets with prospective Vegas owners

The Globe and Mail reports that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met with one of the prospective Vegas ownership groups — at that time reported as the Maloof family and a group that included movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and former MGM chairman Harry Sloan. It’s one of the first public acknowledgements of the ongoing conversations behind closed doors, and it also emphasizes the NHL’s plan to bring balance to its league by adding two teams to the West Division so it can match the 16 in the East Division.

That desire to expand with two teams and not just one is a big reason, if not the only reason, that Las Vegas is still waiting to hear its name called.

December 2014 — Foley launches website

Hockey Vision Las Vegas LLC launches vegaswantshockey.com in part to start gathering support from the community. A few days later and shortly before relocating to Vegas, Foley discusses his approach with the NHL up to that point in a process that hasn’t officially begun yet.

“I’m an ex-Army guy. I follow orders,” he said. “We’ve been very careful in our meetings with the NHL administrative staff, just trying to make sure that we do things in the proper fashion. We’re not pushy, we’re not demanding.”

The orders coming from the league are that Foley and his group, including the Maloofs as prospective minority owners, are free to explore and try to prove the city’s interest in an expansion team.

2/10/15 — Ticket drive officially begins

With Bettman seated to his right and Gavin Maloof in front of him dropping a ceremonial first puck, Foley stands behind a lectern and announces the start of a season-ticket drive. The goal is to secure at least 10,000 season-ticket deposits, and while the NHL is behind the idea they remain hands off.

"I have no promises to make today,” Bettman said. “I do wish Bill and the people of Nevada good luck in this endeavor."

In the first two days, about 5,000 season tickets are sold, and the latest estimate is more than 13,500 with the original goal of 10,000 long since passed.

April/May 2015 — NHL reveals price tag

The public learns that it will take $500 million for any new team to join the NHL, a figure significantly higher than the $80 million it cost to add new teams in 1997.

Then in May, Foley meets with Las Vegas locals to discuss the process and how things are developing. The bad news is that he reveals the earliest the team could play is 2017-18, after originally pushing for 2016, but the season-ticket numbers are good and Foley is confident heading into June’s Board of Governors meeting at the Bellagio.

“Las Vegas has done its job,” Foley said. “Now we’ve presented the information to the league. I’m very confident, but we have to wait for the league to respond.”

6/24/15 — NHL officially begins expansion process

Hours before the NHL awards show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Bettman announces that the league will begin accepting expansion-franchise applications and mentions three cities — Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City — that have shown significant interest.

“The board ultimately will determine whether or not there’s going to be any interest in expanding,” Bettman said. “If the conclusion is there is interest from the league’s perspective, there will be a focus on what the terms will be and who the likely successful candidates might be.”

8/5/15 — Vegas reaches next step

Only two cities, Las Vegas and Quebec City, file an application and both move into Phase II of the NHL’s three-step expansion process.

“In this phase, we will be providing the League with additional information, including information about the Las Vegas market and the MGM AEG Arena being developed between Monte Carlo and New York New York,” Foley sent out on vegaswantshockey.com. “We will also be permitted access to information provided by the League that it deems important to us.”

Seattle is the furthest behind in terms of an arena and doesn’t even apply. However, there is more recent speculation that the league has delayed the process in part to give Seattle more time to put something together.

8/21/15 — Vegas moves into Phase III

Both Las Vegas and Quebec City clear the NHL’s first two hurdles and reach the final step. Of course, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly points out that this “does not necessarily constitute the end of the process.”

That part has become exceedingly clear to local supporters.

Phase III is a more in-depth look at the prospective team’s business plan and revenue projections, as well as a deeper investigation of Foley. At a dinner in October, Foley jokes that the league “has called people I haven’t talked to in 30 years.”

9/29/15 — Foley presents case to Executive Committee

Another step in the convoluted process has Foley fly out to New York City to make his case for an expansion team in Las Vegas to the NHL Executive Committee, which in turn reports to the Board of Governors.

While this is at one point believed to be the time for an official announcement, nothing new develops. At the October dinner, Foley explains part of his argument for a team in Vegas is that nowhere else could turn the franchise into an international brand.

“Forty-one million other people come to Las Vegas and they’re going to support this team, and they’re going to talk about this team,” Foley said. “It’s going to be talked about in China, Russia, everywhere across the world. That was a message that really resonated.”

December 2015 — No news

Much like the meeting in New York, an early December meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif., is at one point expected to include the big announcement. Instead it comes and goes without any real update as Foley and company are forced to continue to wait, looking ahead to the All-Star Game in Nashville as the next weekend of hope that could turn out to be nothing.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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