Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: All the Reasons Why Hockey in Las Vegas Is a Good Idea

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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: All the Reasons Why Hockey in Las Vegas Is a Good Idea
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Las Vegas. It’s the greatest city in the world and the worst city world. It’s the city that provides some of the greatest memories you never want to forget and the darkest moments that you can never shake from your psyche. 

Really, it’s the perfect location for housing an NHL franchise.

If for some reason you were living a normal human life last week, vacationing with your family or blissfully unaware of hockey news because, for the love of goalies scoring goals, it’s August and that’s what you should be doing, here’s what you missed in regards to an NHL franchise coming to Las Vegas complete with hacky gambling references.

Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province pushed his chips into the middle of the table by reporting Vegas was a “done deal,” according to his sources. 

Sports business reporter Howard Bloom matched the bet by reporting four teams—Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and a second Toronto franchise—would come into existence by 2017.

Then Bill Daly decided to spill his beer on the table and soaked everyone’s chips by saying the NHL has no interest in expansion. 

Then Dan Patrick, quietly sitting there with his big stack, not only said Vegas was a reality, but it could be relocation, not expansion, that brings a team to America’s best/worst city. You can watch/listen to Patrick’s words on the matter here.

Those four news items capture what it’s like when four guys go to Vegas together. Three of them are constantly screaming "Vegas!" while the fourth guy wants to go back to the hotel room to sleep at 9 p.m. because he’s really tired and wants to be awake early for breakfast. But really, that fourth guy is waiting for the other three to leave so he can binge on hookers and cocaine.

What can we take from all that information? Expansion is coming, relocation could be coming and Vegas sounds like it will be a reality.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of questions about this topic. That’s why we are combining the Bag Skate into one giant Q&A about this story because, really, there’s nothing else worth talking about anyway. 

I see no better jumping-off point for this discussion than this question. Why? Why Vegas?

The population of Las Vegas is around 600,000 with a metropolitan area that has around 2 million people, according to Forbes. That doesn’t sound like much, but Vegas is the 30th-most populated city in the United States. If you want to look at that in relation to other NHL cities, it has more people than Anaheim, California, Miami, Tampa, Florida, St. Louis, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh.

But Vegas has a big enough base to support a pro sports team and, as you may have heard, it’s quite the popular tourist attraction. If people are willing to fly 2,000 miles to see two adult men play with a tiger for two hours, perhaps people will pay $60 to watch a hockey game for two hours.

Forbes had a report on America's fastest-growing cities in 2010, and Las Vegas was No. 1. 

Las Vegas is like Springfield: A city on the grow.

Dave,

With a greater metropolitan population of over 2 million, Las Vegas is certainly large enough to support an NHL team and the local economy is definitely healthy. However, the city's No. 1 industry is tourism and a projected 26 percent of the locals work in the leisure and hospitality industry, meaning they predominantly work at night.

Do you think this would pose a problem for hockey ticket sales, particularly season tickets? If so, do you think the team's marketing efforts to draw "away" fans to Las Vegas would be enough to fill the arena? Also, could owners and managers establish a stable franchise this way?

Thank you again for reading my questions.

Best wishes,
MLC

That's a pretty good point by MLC, which I like to think is the rival girl group of TLC. The guy dealing 2-5 no limit at MGM Grand and the lady working the betting window at Mandalay Bay from 3 pm. to 10 p.m. probably aren't buying a season-ticket package.

But even with 26 percent of locals working in that industry, not all of them will be working the night shift. Some work overnight, some work days; heck it's Vegas, time has no meaning there. And if you're a hockey fan working as a pit boss at Terry Benedict's casino, you can probably switch shifts with someone else rather easily and get out to a Las Vegas Dreams (that's the nickname) game.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It's certainly not the ideal locale for an NHL team, but consider this: About 4,600 a night show up for the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers, who are led by Adam Hughesman and Chad Nehring, two names I could have just made up right now but I didn't because they are real people. The Wranglers played their games in the Orleans Arena, which is about a mile off The Strip.

(Note: The Wranglers and Orleans Arena are no longer partners, as the company that owns the arena did not renew the lease with the team)

According to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the cheapest walk-up ticket for a Wranglers game last season was $18. The cheapest Phoenix Coyotes ticket is $30; for the Nashville Predators, it's $35. If 4,600 people are willing to pay at least $18 for some serious low-level hockey, I think it's fair to believe you could find 14,000 or so to pay at least double to see an NHL team at an arena on The Strip, as bad as the team may be in the early years.

As for stability, it all comes down to ownership, and I can't speak to the stability of any potential owners because, you won't believe this, I'm not very close with many billionaires. If you get smart owners, anything can happen. If you get owners who want an out clause built into the agreement, your team will probably be run shoddily and eventually stripped and sold for parts.

Always hit. Always. It doesn't matter if the six previous cards out of the shoe were 4s, you take that card every time. 

Dave,

What, in your opinion, is the best movie ever filmed using Las Vegas as the setting?

1. Vegas Vacation

2. Swingers

3. Saved By The Bell: The Wedding

4. Pay It Forward

Thanks, you're the best and I love you,

Tom

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Are these the four movies I have to choose from? First off, I didn't realize Pay It Forward was set in Las Vegas. That terrible movie is the line that marks the end of Kevin Spacey's Hanks-ian run of movies: Pre-Pay It Forward, he was in The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential, Se7en, A Time to Kill, The Negotiator and American Beauty; post-Pay It Forward, he was in K-PAX, Superman Returns, Beyond The Sea, Fred Claus and 21, the worst movie ever to involve Vegas.

Swingers is also secretly not a good movie, yet any dude who was in his 20s in the 1990s thinks it's about him and reflects his life somehow. If you want to watch a good Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn movie that has a real story in it, watch Made

I will now casually shuffle past SBTB: The Wedding to heap praise on Vegas Vacation. It's not anywhere as good as the earlier Vacation movies, but it's still funny. Most guys around my age and younger immediately know what you're talking about when you reference Nick Papagiorgio

But the real best movie to take place in Las Vegas is Honeymoon in Vegas. Flying Elvises. Utah chapter.

Home-ice advantage is a myth anyway, so having a team in the party capital of the universe won't matter unless the team is good, which it won't be for a long time. Did you see this mock draft The Sporting News did last week? That should give you a vague idea of how hard it will be for a Vegas team to win 20 games in any of its first three seasons.

What are, arguably, the most fun cities for wealthy guys in their 20s to visit? For my money, they are Montreal, Chicago and New York.

The Canadiens have been pretty good at home the past decade, but not coincidentally, the Canadiens as a whole have been pretty good the past decade.

The Rangers have lost more games than they've won at home in three of the past five seasons, four of which have ended in postseason berths. From 1997-2004, when the Rangers failed to make the playoffs, they were bad at home.

The same can be said for the Blackhawks, who have been great at home since they became a dominant team but spent most seasons immediately preceding 2005-06 getting drubbed at home because they were a horrendous team.

If you want to party as a hockey player, you can do it anywhere. You don't need Vegas to get yourself in trouble. If you can get yourself suspended for partying too hard and too late in *Phoenix*, then it doesn't really matter if you're in Vegas or Vatican City. You will find that trouble.

The "party factor" or how Vegas affects home-ice advantage is a non-issue, especially in the first few seasons of the new team's existence.

I don't know so much about relocation right now because, as mentioned above, there are massive fees for expansion and not so much for relocation. But if there are two franchises that should be moved, it's Florida and Phoenix; Miami is probably going to be under water in the next 50 years, so may as well get out now before all the equipment gets wet because, as we all know, nothing smells worse than wet hockey equipment.

So, Jesse, Phoenix may not be able to be Vegas' biggest rival, as Phoenix may become Vegas. It will be the most realistic version of a team beating itself or a team being its own worst enemy, as Phoenix will be Vegas and Vegas will be Phoenix if there is relocation. 

But if that doesn't happen, no, Phoenix and Vegas will not be rivals, as no one cares about Phoenix and Vegas will be terrible for years after its inception. You need those ingredients in a rivalry, even if the cities are separated by only 300 miles.

There is subpar ice all over the place in the NHL, including Edmonton, which was the inspiration for the Hoth Planet in Star Wars (not really, but the point is it's very cold there, and the ice is perhaps the worst in the NHL). 

There's already an ECHL team out there and they play ice hockey on ice, as far as I can tell. I have no firsthand knowledge of the Wranglers ice, but by my count, there were 221 goals scored in 36 Vegas home games last season. That's an average of 6.14 per game, and while goals don't necessarily denote ice quality, it must be OK considering Vegas was the ECHL's worst offensive team last season. The average NHL game last season had about 5.7 goals per game, but level of competition and all that, of course.

Ice can be maintained anywhere. Heck, they played an outdoor game in Los Angeles last season and in Vegas in 1991. That's right: The NHL played a preseason game between the Kings and Rangers outside Caesar's in 1991, won 5-2 by the Kings. The temperature that day was 85 degrees. Hockey can be played just fine in Vegas.

The Kings have been playing regular preseason games (indoors) in Vegas since 1997. 

Here are the average high and low monthly temperatures in Las Vegas, via weather.com:

• October: 83/54
• November: 68/42
• December: 58/34
• January: 58/34
• February: 64/39
• March: 71/45
• April: 79/53
• May: 89/61
• June: 99/70

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Here are the average high and low monthly temperatures in Dallas, via weather.com:

• October: 79/58
• November: 67/48
• December: 58/39
• January: 57/37
• February: 61/41
• March: 69/49
• April: 77/56
• May: 84/65
• June: 92/73

The ice quality in Dallas isn't great, but the point here is the climates are very similar, and the Stars found a way to build a championship team in a warm-weather, non-traditional market on less-than-ideal ice. You probably don't want to drop the puck at noon local time ever in Vegas, and that team will very likely never practice on good ice, but the game can clearly be played there.

The Dallas metro-area has about 4 million more people than the Vegas metro-area, so it's not exactly a perfect comparison, but it's hard to find one for Vegas.

Who knows—if this theoretical Vegas hockey team isn't sharing a multiuse arena with an NBA team, perhaps the ice will be better than anyone thinks.

Finally, the question that had to be asked.

Maybe I'm just poorly educated on the matter, but this seems like the last thing in the world the NHL cares about in regards to a team in Las Vegas. They've had their awards show there since 2009, so it's not as if the seedy underbelly of game-fixing hasn't had plenty of time to get its claws into the game's top players and, as far as I can tell, it hasn't happened.

Spaces Images/Blend Images/Associated Press

Match fixing is huge in soccer and hasn't involved a team in Vegas. Pete Rose bet on baseball, played in Cincinnati. There's been point shaving in college basketball involving Boston College and CCNY. Everyone and their grandmother bets on the NFL in one form or another and no one has made any allegations or shown that those games are fixed.

Look, it's 2014. If someone wants to fix a game in any sport, they don't need a team to be in Vegas to pull it off. Technology allows anyone to communicate with anyone from anywhere in the world. If a criminal war lord living in a basement in Thailand (probably blogging about Corsi) wants to get a guy on the take, he (or she, equally opportunity game-fixing) can do it with or without a team in Vegas.

If you want to fix an NHL game, you're going to have to turn a referee or a goaltender. Again, you can be a gambling type living in Winnipeg and pull off the same thing you'd want to pull off in Vegas.

And really, if you saw a poorly refereed game or poor goaltending performance from Ondrej Pavelec, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

The Bag Skate will be back Tuesday, September 16 and appear every other week during the offseason.

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