Hockey world is open to an NHL expansion gamble in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The NHL is thinking about expanding to Las Vegas, and Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley has already considered the challenges he might face bringing 25 young hockey players to Sin City.

“We would need one giant room to sleep the entire team in,” Hartley said with a laugh Tuesday. “And the coach sleeps right at the door.”

If the NHL actually decides to gamble on a franchise in the Nevada desert, most players and executives are optimistic that the ice wouldn’t melt.

The growing possibility of NHL expansion is a popular topic this week with the league in town for its postseason awards show and executive meetings. The league could announce the opening of a formal expansion process Wednesday, and an opening faceoff in Vegas conceivably could be just two years away.

Sure, prospective owner Bill Foley’s bid faces several logical hurdles beyond the 110-degree temperatures and relatively untested pro sports market. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is among several players who believe the league must be sure a team would work financially to avoid the problems of other Sun Belt franchises.

But many players believe this town’s glamour and growing population would make for a hit in the rink and off the ice.

“I don’t see why not,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, whose Los Angeles Kings play an annual exhibition game in Vegas. “I think everyone would be happy to bring a team here. The visiting teams when they come here obviously would enjoy it, and the players living here would have a lot of fun. I think it’s good for the league. It would be cool. Hopefully we can get a rivalry going.”

The process of luring this cold-weather sport to a desert town has been underway for several years now. MGM Resorts and sports conglomerate AEG are already building a $350 million, 20,000-seat arena slated to open next year right on the Strip, and Foley has collected well over 11,500 commitments to buy season tickets in a well-publicized drive.

“I’m all for anywhere they can make money at this point,” Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “There’s teams that are struggling a lot, and if (Vegas) has the support that goes behind it, then I’m all for it. … I’m sure you’d have some issues at some point, like in any city, but you’re a professional.”

For a league with struggling franchises in the Phoenix area and Miami, the prospect of adding another warm-weather NHL team seems curious to some — but even the cautious players are excited by the possibilities.

“I think it’s very important to think long-term, and think whether it’s a franchise or a market that can truly support the game of hockey through maybe some not-so-good seasons,” said Toews, the three-time Stanley Cup champion. “Maybe look at some other franchises that have or haven’t done that, and we’ll see. If there was a team here, I think a lot of players around the league would be excited to play here. I’m sure the team would have a very good home record, so that could definitely help with their fan base.”

Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, in Las Vegas for perhaps the fourth time in his life as a Norris Trophy finalist, also is intrigued by the possibilities.

“I like the weather here,” Subban said. “It’s always fun to come here. I’m not a big gambler, but there’s a lot more to Las Vegas than just the casinos and the Strip. People have to come here and really get to know what Las Vegas is all about, other than the party scene. It’s a great place.”

Foley’s group wouldn’t be the only contender for an NHL franchise if the league decides to add two teams to reach a symmetrical 32 franchises.

Boston forward Patrice Bergeron pointed out the arena under construction in Quebec City. The NHL is likely eager to put a team in Seattle, but the market has no commitment to a suitable arena just yet. Portland and Houston also seem to be desirable targets.

The NHL is likely to make its plans clearer on Wednesday after its Board of Governors meets.

Most players’ basic feelings about expansion were summed up by Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd: “As players, the more jobs for us, obviously, the better.”

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              Fans take pictures of the Stanley Cup at the MGM Grand on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Las Vegas. If the NHL decides to gamble on an expansion franchise in the Nevada desert, most of the world's top hockey players are cautiously optimistic that the ice wouldn't melt. (AP Photo/John Locher)
              A fan takes pictures of NHL award trophies on display at the MGM Grand on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Las Vegas. The growing possibility of NHL expansion to Las Vegas is a popular topic among players and executives this week with the league in town for its postseason awards show and executive meetings. The league could even announce the opening of a formal expansion process Wednesday. (AP Photo/John Locher)