Friday, May 27, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Kesler has enjoyed a summer vacation in Las Vegas in four of the last seven years for the annual NHL Awards.
The 31-year-old would need a little something more to ever hypothetically consider coming to the city more permanently by joining the potential NHL franchise housed at T-Mobile Arena.
“If there was a team and they’re courting free agents, what I would like to see is everything laid out,” Kesler said. “Like, ‘Here’s the school system. Here’s the communities to live in. Here’s a real estate agent. Here’s a dentist.’ Lay everything out to tell guys like me this isn’t just a party town. It’s a good community system with places to live and things to do.”
How to attract free agents is a problem prospective team owner Bill Foley probably wishes he could address, but the fate of Las Vegas’ NHL fortunes remains perpetually delayed since serious discussions began nearly two years ago. This year’s awards show, scheduled for June 22 at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel, is the newest rumored date for an official announcement.
Kesler, nominated this year for the Frank J. Selke Trophy that’s given to the league’s best defensive forward, would champion expansion, especially in Las Vegas.
“I’m all for it as long as long as the league and the players are,” Kesler said.
Foley and his team would yearn for the day they’re able to build around a player like Kesler. The Detroit native is a two-time Olympian who came a game away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks and a game away from reaching the finals in 2014 with the Ducks.
He’s a Selke finalist this year for the fourth time, and won the award in 2011.
Players of Kesler’s caliber aren’t likely to be available for a team like Las Vegas immediately. Franchises would protect them in the expansion draft, leaving mostly journeymen, second-rate prospects and international players for the new team to derive a roster from.
The Las Vegas team would likely be a Pacific division rival of Kesler’s Ducks, and perhaps an unintimidating one to start.
“I think it would take a couple years (to be competitive) for sure,” Kesler said. “But it allows for more jobs; it allows for a city to come into the league.”
Kesler shared one way he thought a Las Vegas team would make up for a talent discrepancy — a unique home-ice advantage.
“There’s not much temptation in Winnipeg,” he joked. “The only outside I’m seeing in Winnipeg is that five-foot walk from the hotel to the bus.”
Kesler was careful not to speak for other players, but guessed that the majority of his peers would be for adding a team in Las Vegas. He doesn’t see why gambling or nightlife options would serve as serious impediments.
“I’ve never been on a team that goes out the night before a game or anything like that,” he said. “I’d say if a team had a couple nights here, they’d probably do a team dinner or a team party, but other than that, I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Kesler hopes he has a reason to party after the NHL Awards next month, though fellow finalist Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins has won the Selke in three of the last four years. He stressed it’s not the trophy he’s really after, however, as hoisting the Stanley Cup remains the ultimate goal.
Kesler waived a no-trade clause two years ago to go from Vancouver to Anaheim and have a better chance at a championship. It’s not going to bother him if one extra team stands in the way.
“Some people say it dilutes the product but there are so many good players in the minors right now that I don’t think it would dilute it that much,” Kesler said.