With the announcement of the NHL expanding into Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season, the process starts for owner Bill Foley and his team. Finding a General Manager, head coach, staff for on and off the ice, as well as getting a team name. On top of that, Foley will need to purchase and find a location for the team’s AHL affiliate.
“We run a separate process, but if Mr. Foley was approved by the NHL, I would think he wouldn’t have to go through an extensive process,” said AHL commissioner David Andrews to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Mr. Andrews also estimated the cost of the team for purchase would be around $5 million.
Once approved, the next part is the location. Foley has said that he would want the AHL team to be close, which means we’ll have an addition to the Pacific Division of the AHL– which may also mean that it could finally even out the number of games across the board for the western segment of the AHL.
But where will Foley go? What options would be close enough for Las Vegas, but also be a successful hockey market that will be able to grow? It’s not impossible for the AHL team to stay very close by playing in Las Vegas, a model that has happened in Toronto, San Jose, and Winnipeg. With the proposed practice facility having enough seating for the AHL’s liking, the team could very well end up there. Yet, it’s may not be what’s best for business having both teams in the same market that isn’t a traditional hockey market and may not have the clout to support both an NHL and AHL team. Should Foley want to keep the team in-state, the Reno area could be a better option and would allow them to have their own identity. The one problem that could arise might be sharing the Reno Events Center with the NBA D-League’s Reno Bighorns, thus killing some weekend dates for the AHL team.
Should Foley want to go out of Nevada altogether, he could look toward the Fresno market, which has been without minor league hockey since the Fresno Falcons folded midway through the 2008-09 season. The reason the team folded was due to the lack of corporate sponsorship and support from the locals as their attendance dropped from 5,035 in 2007-08 to 3,284 in their short time in 2008-09. It could be worrisome that the last team couldn’t get local support, but with the boom of hockey in California and the success that the AHL has had in the first year moving west, the people of Fresno may look at hockey differently these days.
There are many that have suggested that maybe Salt Lake City, Utah could be a destination for the AHL team, but it may take a big deal in order to make the Utah Grizzlies move up to the AHL or move out of the market entirely. When asked about it earlier in the year, Grizzlies CEO Kevin Bruder said that the team was happy in the ECHL. Bruder told the Salt Lake Tribune, “If the opportunity arose, we would obviously look at it, but with the understanding that we would do what’s best for our organization and what’s best for Utah.”
While this decision is probably not an easy one, Foley hasn’t been going wrong yet in the process. He and his staff have probably weighed the options and will go to the right people after that to see what they could propose. Who knows, it may be none of the above options and he finds a diamond in the rough in another city. Right now, all we can do is sit and wait.