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October 23, 2017

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NHL preview: Countdown to awards — and expansion team announcement?

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Steve Spatafore / Las Vegas News Bureau

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with his Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies at the 2014 NHL Awards in Encore Theater on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Wynn Las Vegas.

2014 NHL Awards at Wynn

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with his Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies at the 2014 NHL Awards in Encore Theater on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Wynn Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2014 NHL Awards

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with his Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies at the 2014 NHL Awards in Encore Theater on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Wynn Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2012 NHL Awards

Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin poses with the Ted Lindsay Award, left, the Art Ross Trophy, center, and the Hart Trophy during the 2012 NHL Awards show at the Wynn Las Vegas Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The clock is ticking with two times for Wednesday when history will be made: 1 and 2 p.m. The countdown is on, and we are now 24 hours from knowing the result of one of the biggest bets ever made in Las Vegas sports history.

It will be an all-star turnout for Wednesday’s 2016 NHL Awards live broadcast with our Rio headliners Penn & Teller providing magic. They will be walking the 2 p.m. red carpet at the Hard Rock Hotel with members of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, including head coach Mike Sullivan.

A procession of 20 NHL trophies will be seen on the carpet with NHL legends Brad May and George Parros, and cameras will be flashing at star players Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Jim Rutherford of the Penguins, who will be honored during the 2-hour NBC Sports Network telecast from the Joint at the Hard Rock.

However, the real celebration hopefully will come an hour earlier at 1 p.m. in Encore Ballroom at Wynn Las Vegas when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will finally thrill the residents of Las Vegas with the official announcement that a NHL expansion team has been approved for the 2017-18 season.

It’s a $500 million conundrum because per NHL director decisions, that’s the amount that mortgage banker business investor William Foley has to give to the league to secure the official nod. And that’s on top of the 14,000 season tickets sold for Year 1 per the commissioner’s initial demand of support.

Here are the exact figures to join the NHL: A $2 million nonrefundable down payment and now the balance of $500 million — $498 million. Incredible! The $2 million was paid more than a year ago, and Bill must deliver the balance Wednesday.

I honestly can’t believe that the commissioner will nix the Las Vegas decision when an hour later he has to face live TV cameras of the awards, on which he’ll appear in a comedy sketch with host Will Arnett.

Why else would he be in Las Vegas with the awards if the verdict was a thumbs down on our city’s bid? He wouldn’t dare be skating on such thin ice! Meantime, 2012 Miss USA turned 2012 Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, who won both titles here at Planet Hollywood, is one of the presenters.

Here’s the list of hockey heroes being honored:

Ryan Kesler and John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks; Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins; Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames; Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks; Jamie Benn, Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars; Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers; Aleksander Barkov and Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers; and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.

Also, Matt Martin and John Tavares of the New York Islanders; Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers; P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens; Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators; Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators; Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers; Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning; Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and Braden Holtby, Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals.

Actor and Toronto Maple Leafs die-hard fan Will Arnett hosts the awards with alternative rockers X Ambassadors performing. Details of the broadcast were posted in our NHL preview story posted Monday.

Said Will: “It would be great for Las Vegas to have a team. If you also got the NFL Raiders, you would overnight become a very serious sports town in its own right.”

In addition to Olivia and Penn & Teller, other scheduled presenters are NHL Hall of Famers Dominik Hasek, Mark Howe, Mark Messier and Luc Robitaille; former NHL players Kevin Lowe and Marty Howe; actors Anders Holm, Jason Priestley and Jacob Tremblay; and actress/model Erin Heatherton.

Also, NBC Sports broadcasters Kathryn Tappen and Anson Carter; Sportsnet broadcasters Tara Slone and Elliotte Friedman; hockey Twitter sensation Tony X; and Gerry Nelson and son Wyatt, whose first meeting with the Stanley Cup inspired the hockey community. This is the eighth year the NHL has come to the desert with its seventh consecutive awards.

We might not yet be Cleveland celebrating the success of the Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals for the first time in 52 years, but once the NHL makes it official Wednesday, we can start looking forward to the day that our first pro sports team — the Las Vegas Knights rather than the Jackpots? — will face off in the first home game at T-Mobile Arena.

Then eventually get to the playoffs en route to our first Stanley Cup win. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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