Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Vegas Golden Knights rookie Alex Tuch was walking through a crowd of people when he received a text message from teammate Shea Theodore urging him to check his email.
Confused, Tuch logged on to find something he’s waited for his entire professional career — a housing letter.
“I just kind of fist-pumped right in the middle of a large public era,” Tuch said. “People were looking at me like, ‘What the heck just happened?’ That’s a big step in your career. When you get that letter, you’re here for the long run.”
• Number: 27
• Position: defenseman
• Height: 6-2
• Weight: 195 lbs.
• Age: 22
• Drafted: First round, 26th overall in 2013 by Anaheim
• Number: 89
• Position: right winger
• Height: 6-4
• Weight: 222 lbs.
• Age: 21
• Drafted: First round, 18th overall in 2014 by Minnesota
Teams can move young NHL players on entry-level contracts back and forth between their major- and minor-league clubs as often as they see fit. Whether it’s because they aren’t ready for the NHL or the team just doesn’t have enough roster spots, players often bounce from city to city repeatedly.
Theodore, for example, was sent from the NHL to the AHL 10 times as a member of the Anaheim Ducks last season.
When an NHL team calls a player up from the AHL, it puts him in a hotel. The players stay in hotels until they receive a housing letter, which essentially tells them they’re settling in as members of the NHL club.
The Golden Knights stationed Tuch and Theodore at Red Rock Resort, across from the team’s practice facility, early in the season. They enjoyed staying together at Red Rock so much that they decided to rent a house together.
“We clicked right away,” Tuch said. “It’s been really fun and easy. We are both pretty laid-back and like to have a good time. We mesh well together.”
Sharing the house comes with monetary benefits as well.
“We are both trying to save some money. We aren’t making millions of dollars a year like James Neal over here,” Tuch said, laughing as he looked down a few stalls in the locker room. “It’s just a really good situation.”
The two aren’t making minimum wage, either. Tuch makes $925,000 per year and Theodore $863,333, but it’s a far cry from the NHL maximum contract of $7.8 million.
Living out of Red Rock Resort helped the pair with their expenses, and also came with other benefits.
“The permanent smell of smoke isn’t great when you’re walking around, but there are lots of places to eat, there’s a movie theater and things like that,” Theodore said. “It’s good to have options like that, especially to eat, and the rooms are nice too.”
But the two are decidedly in favor of their newfound job security, and living in a house they can call their own.
“It was nice having room service and getting your bed made every day and stuff, but getting to sit on your own couch and lay on your own bed, having video games at your disposal is so much better,” Tuch said.
As professional athletes with a strict eating regimen, being able to cook their own meals is a major plus.
“(Theodore) doesn’t cook,” Tuch joked. “Don’t listen to him. I’m the cook. He makes bowls of cereal.
“No, seriously, if we don’t eat a pregame meal (at the practice facility), I’ll make some pasta and a whole dinner. He’s more of a griller. He likes doing the grill, and I trust him on that.”
The housing letter has allowed Tuch and Theodore to live more of a normal existence. They’ve been able to have their families in town together at Christmas, for example.
They said the stability has helped their contributions to the Golden Knights.
“It allows you to kind of ease in and get comfortable on the ice,” Tuch said. “They wanted me up here not only because they think I’m good enough, but they want this coaching staff to help develop me, and they’ve done a great job so far, I think. I’m learning a lot every day and trying to get pieces here and there. I think that’s one of the reasons I got that housing letter is they trust in the process and the coaching staff.”
Theodore said he can play more freely now, without the worry that a mistake could land him back in the AHL.
“This has probably been the easiest year, stress-wise, because I got called up and got my housing letter right away,” Theodore said. “The past couple years, when I was with Anaheim, I never had that. I never had that certainty of having a home outside of a hotel.”
Going into the Jan. 13 game, Tuch was tied for seventh on the team in points with nine goals and 12 assists; Theodore is third among defensemen with four goals and nine assists, and both are major contributors on the power play.
As a whole, the Golden Knights have bonded quickly. The players, most of whom had never played together, already feel like a tight-knit unit, but no teammates are closer than Tuch and Theodore. And with Tuch only 21 years old and Theodore 22, the two appear to be important building blocks for the franchise going forward.
“I want to be here for the long run,” Tuch said. “I wouldn’t mind Las Vegas being my new home for a while.”