Tuesday, June 16, 2020 | 2 a.m.
T-Mobile Arena appears likely to host hockey when the NHL returns later this summer, but there’s no guarantee that the usual tenant will be playing there.
The NHL could announce the two hub cities out of the 10 established finalists as soon as this week. Multiple reports suggest Las Vegas will be one of them, which begs the question: Will the Golden Knights get to play at home through the playoffs?
Right now, no one knows.
“We’d be hopeful that we would play in a hub in Las Vegas if that opportunity was there for us,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “If it wasn’t, we’d happily play wherever the NHL told us to go and play.”
Several cities under consideration are homes to teams in the 24-team playoff, including Las Vegas. If Las Vegas and an Eastern Conference city were selected, it stands to reason that the Golden Knights would play here with the rest of the west while the other 12 teams would station in another part of the country.
But there’s no guarantee which way the NHL will ultimately go.
Vegas has enjoyed tremendous success at T-Mobile Arena, with a three-year record of 75-33-11. Players credit much of that to the raucous home crowd, which won’t be a factor in a tournament played without fans.
Players would feel more comfortable in the building they are used to, of course, but NHL rinks all have the same measurements so there’s little quantifiable on-ice value to playing at home.
Still, it’s enough of a concern that some teams have raised the issues to league decision-makers and owner Bill Foley has said he doesn’t expect the Golden Knights to play in Las Vegas.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have tried to downplay the idea that the Golden Knights or anyone else would have an advantage from playing in familiar territory.
“I can’t tell you that that has been finally decided, but particularly given the fact that there’s no fans in the stands, we certainly see some merit to moving the club to a different market,” Daly said on May 26, “so that any perceived advantages associated with being in a home market are eliminated.”
If and when players descend on Las Vegas, they will be in a tightly controlled environment.
Specifics haven’t been unveiled, but the thought is that the players will only be permitted between the hotel, rinks and a few other places.
To keep competitive balance, the Golden Knights could be locked down on the Strip mere minutes away from their homes.
"If a team happens to be its own market, the players I don't think should be planning on going home,” Bettman said. “They'll be staying in the same conditions as everybody else is."
But it doesn’t seem like the Golden Knights care either way. Vegas forward Max Pacioretty is focused on playing, regardless of the location. He hasn’t spoken directly about the hubs or addressed the concerns of other teams playing in Las Vegas, but given previous comments, nothing would bother him.
"I mean, if we had to wait six months and play in Antarctica, I'd be willing to do that," Pacioretty said to NHL.com in April.
It’s ultimately the NHL’s decision, as McCrimmon stressed. The announcement of hubs is still contingent on a few factors, including the Canadian government’s willingness to ease its mandatory 14-day quarantine restrictions.
Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver are the Canadian cities under consideration.
Once hubs are decided, the league can transition into its next steps of returning to action. Players are currently in Phase 2, which is small group workouts at team facilities. Phase 3, mandatory training camps, is scheduled to begin July 10, with Phase 4, games, to follow at a to-be-determined date.
Those games happen might happen in Las Vegas, and they might happen with the Vegas team playing thousands of miles always. Both scenarios are fine with the Golden Knights.
“Everybody’s trying to do the right things to get to the playoffs, to get playoff hockey,” McCrimmon said. “If that’s what we’re asked to do, we’ll happily comply.”