(Photo credit: Dodo Gaming)
What would it mean?
When the 2017-2018 NHL season started, with the newly minted Vegas Golden Knights set to play their first game, most people assumed that it would be another disappointing debut for an expansion team. As the regular season draws to an end, however, several teams find themselves with an “e” next to their names in the standings, and the Golden Knights are not among them. In fact, Vegas finds themselves in the upper echelon of the National Hockey League, having surpassed 100 points and making a strong press for a top playoff seed. As the end of the season is fast approaching, and the Golden Knights having officially clinched a playoff berth, it’s time to consider what a Stanley Cup win would mean for the team and the league.
Foremost, there’s the argument of the desert not being a place for hockey to thrive, thanks to the appalling attendance at Arizona Coyotes home games. Over the past ten years, the desert dogs have attracted an average of 13,200 to the Gila River Arena, which boasts a hockey capacity of 17,125. Although it’s not surprising that a poorly performing team would struggle to sell tickets, many people forget that the Coyotes were a Western Conference Final team in 2012, a season with an average attendance of 12,421.
Since then, speculation and rumours of relocation have been non-stop surrounding the organization, strongly supported by the notion that the American Southwest is not a suitable home for a hockey franchise. With the Vegas Golden Knights having sold 16,000 season tickets before even having a team name, and having the best season ever recorded by an expansion team, those in Arizona should have hope that with the right ownership and management team in place, hockey fandom in the desert can rival that of any traditional hockey market.
Regarding expansion teams, the quick success of the Golden Knights is a clear sign to the league they’ve found a successful way to grow past 31 teams if they so choose. The method that the league took regarding the expansion draft was specifically designed to ensure that Vegas could be as competitive as possible as fast as possible, a major issue that previous expansion teams had.
Combining bad teams in non-traditional markets is a combination for disaster, as the league most recently saw with the Atlanta Thrashers. During their inaugural season, the Thrashers played to an average attendance of just over 17,000. They also only won 14 games. Their attendance took major drops over the next few years, never fully reaching the level it was in their first season, as the team only made one playoff appearance in their 12 year history before packing up and heading to Winnipeg. Comparatively, the Nashville Predators took 5 seasons to find their feet before reaching the postseason in 7 of their next 8 seasons.
It’s clear that to have sustainability in a new market, the National Hockey League needs to ensure that expansion teams become as competitive as possible as soon as possible, and with Seattle seemingly locked in to have a team of their own in the immediate future, a Stanley Cup win for Vegas would prove to the league that their new method of expanding is a guaranteed way to generate interest and revenue almost immediately.
Finally, and most significantly, the success of the Golden Knights for the league would pale in comparison to what it would mean for the city itself. Las Vegas had a significant amount of excitement surrounding their new hockey team stripped away merely three days before the start of the regular season when 58 lives were cut short at a country music festival. Nine days later, the Golden Knights took to the ice of T-Mobile Arena for the first time, surrounded by the words Vegas Strong and an entire city looking for a reason to be happy.
League commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out how the Golden Knights have been able to help the city move on from the tragedy, with their fandom and support showing “what a major league professional sports team can mean to a community in terms of bringing people together, uniting them, helping them heal from a tragedy and demonstrating the power of distraction when everybody comes together.”
Now, six months later, the Golden Knights are in a position to bring the ultimate distraction they can: a deep playoff run that will push the hockey frenzy of Las Vegas to a completely different level.