Mark Humphrey / AP
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The world’s best hockey players spoke in front of backdrops plastered with the logo of the NHL Awards Tuesday afternoon at Encore Las Vegas.
They probably felt like “Board of Governors Meeting” should have replaced “Awards” on the podiums, because reporters asked them much more about the ramifications of this morning’s summit at Encore than this evening’s gala at the Hard Rock. The Board of Governors is expected to officially grant Las Vegas its first major professional sports franchise at the meeting, with an ensuing news conference from Commissioner Gary Bettman scheduled to publicly announce the expansion team.
“I think Vegas will be a great venue,” Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. “I’m sure they’ll probably have a good home record, but at the same time, it will be fun for a lot of us to play somewhere different. I don’t think you ever envisioned playing hockey in a place like this.”
Kane is favored to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s most valuable player award, by a landslide, a similar margin to which Las Vegas’ expansion bid for the 2017-2018 season should pass. Twenty-four of the league’s 30 existing owners must vote in favor of the new-team proposal, but approval is rumored to wind up closer to unanimous.
The vast majority of owners are reportedly willing to back whatever recommendation the league’s nine-member executive committee presents. The Associated Press reported last week that the committee came to a decision to endorse Las Vegas for expansion in a meeting two weeks ago in New York.
It also is expected to decline or delay Quebec City’s bid, largely because of the current weakness of the Canadian dollar. Quebec City was always more of a long shot compared with Las Vegas, which had everything in place even before the same annual Board of Governors meeting last year resulted in the opening of a formal expansion process.
The now-completed T-Mobile Arena was tailored toward housing a hockey team during its construction. An ownership group led by Bill Foley booked more than 13,000 season ticket deposits and gathered the $500 million expansion fee.
“It sounds like they have a lot of people who are passionate about hockey down here,” Islanders winger Matt Martin said. “I think it will be exciting to see how it turns out. It will draw a lot of attention and be good for the league.”
It felt almost as if the more than 15 players who spoke Tuesday conferred and came to a consensus with their thoughts on Las Vegas an NHL city.
They uniformly celebrated the new roster spots the move would create, praised T-Mobile Arena, and with the exception of Kane’s rote home-record quip, downplayed the possibilities of distractions.
“You play in New York, you play in Toronto,” San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said. “I know a lot of players when they come to San Jose, go to Napa. You play in great cities all over the place, so I think for us, we’re lazy and creatures of habit on the road. I think it’s nice to have restaurants close and stay in nice hotels where you don’t have to leave.”
Players could be tired of discussing the local NHL team by now since it’s stayed a topic for so long. Two previous Board of Governors meetings were once seen as likely to yield confirmation, but went by without as much as any significant update.
That’s left many Las Vegas sports fans pessimistic, hardened by years of professional sports teams passing over the city. But all indications are that the NHL will break the barrier today, and the players know it.
“I think the cool thing about it is, we’re the first professional sports league to do it,” Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. “I think that’s something to hang your hat on for sure.”