Is the NHL expanding to Las Vegas, Seattle, Toronto, and Quebec City?

by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

LINE - White Cover Magazine

It sort of happened like The Avengers. One day, you’re staring at your dad’s comic books, wondering to yourself, “How is it possible that nobody has made a movie about Iron Man? Or about The Hulk? Or Thor? Or Captain America?” And then, all of a sudden, they’re all together in the biggest – but possibly most overrated, and I won’t explain why I said that – movie of the year, maybe the decade. Or it’s like watching The Price is Right, seeing someone cling to faith on a Plinko chip in the first round, barely nipping that oversized dollar into the wickets of the $10,000 space. And then, within a half-an-hour, they have rocketed through the wheel and into the Showcase Showdown, where not only do they win their own package but they guess right within $500, winning the other guy’s showcase, too.

These things happen sometimes. You hope for just one brownie and you get the whole plate. And it seems like the NHL is content on giving that to us, too.

Not just Seattle. Not just Las Vegas (wait, Las Vegas was a real idea?) or Quebec City or New Toronto. But all freakin’ four.

Is it a dream come true, or a nightmare for our still sleepy eyes, the shot of pain you get from an overlit bathroom you stumble into at three in the morning?

With one report from Tony Gallagher, it seemed like every other columnist was clinging to their own similar rumour – and yes, this whole thing is really just one ensemble cast of a rumour right now – and they just had to let it fly, had to tell us that the National Hockey League was preparing to ruin Winnipeg’s freshness yet again. “Oh sure, Jets fans, you just had the happiest moment of your life. But look, over here, we’re all having triplets! Happy wedding day, by the way.”

Early Tuesday, we heard Las Vegas was going to get a team. And then, some byline named Howard Bloom turned the single into a grand slam, saying that all four would be coming and they’d be here by 2017. (For a reference point of just how soon that is, my fellow Vancouverites, we’re closer to the start of the 2017-18 season than we are to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.)

Gallagher’s column on Tuesday identified the Vegas stuff accurately as the sort of thing you hear with your ear up against a short water glass placed on the wall of Bettman’s hotel room, but his conviction was clear – even if The Province edited his headline into one of those disguising, sober print ones, “Bettman has changed his tune on NHL expansion“.

While Gallagher muses about Seattle in his story, he really tweaked North American eyebrows with his claims on the Las Vegas situation, calling expansion to Bugsy’s town a “done deal” and even looking ahead to wonder whether it’s already a problem that games could be “fixed” in Sin City, the “gambling haven” of the United States. (That’s true, games could be fixed there. But couldn’t they be fixed anywhere? Why not wonder whether Mike Santorelli’s Italian heritage means he’ll carbo-load too much in Toronto?)

Personally, I think Vegas is an exciting option for the NHL. Do I think it’s viable? Jeeze, I don’t really have any idea. But I’m already jonesing over the thought of taking that quick, cheap flight from Vancouver to McCarran International for an easy three-day weekend, with the ability to enjoy not only bursting buffets and a Caesar Salad by the casino pool before noon, but also three hours of ice hockey with a cocktail and late-night slot machines as the morning rides in.

(I did like the angle from Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski however, who aptly pointed out that while everyone is recycling the thought that an NHL team would be the first professional sports franchise in Las Vegas and that the city’s thirst for something like it makes Nevada’s only hub an ideal fit for ice hockey’s prongs, the real competition there is from casinos, not another team: “It’s unlike any other market in professional sports. There’s unrivaled competition for entertainment dollars. Many of the people who would attend the games as local fans are working while the games are being played. The largest target audience for the team would be the casinos who fill the considerable luxury box space in the new arena and tourists who pop in to see a game while in Sin City – or, perhaps, get comp’d for one.”)

I could get the same fill from Seattle as well, I suppose, which is only a two-hour drive or so from my place in White Rock, and it would be a welcome, refreshing change from this parasitic hockey keg called Vancouver. It’s the sort of thing those guys in Toronto and New York and Philly have enjoyed for far too long, the chance to take in another game from another arena with minimal effort and – let’s hope – less of their wallet.

Seattle is really the most newsworthy of all the four markets, not really because it’s a greater choice than Quebec City or Toronto or Vegas, but because it’s sort of crazy to think that Washington has never had an NHL team. There’s as much love for the sport there as there is anywhere else in the United States and – while Quebec City’s storyline is a redemption and correction one similar to Winnipeg, and while a second franchise in Toronto has a direct impact on not just the Toronto Maple Leafs but on any possibility of an NFL team there, too – Seattle is a perpetually forgotten jewel, tucked away in the Pacific Northwest like everything is tucked away in the Pacific Northwest. When you hear the cheers for the Canucks or the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, I can only imagine the rest of the continent picks their head off their pillow like they just head a car backfire and goes, “What the hell was that?”

But there are two real angles here that I immediately thought of…

First, we’re not talking about anything like what we saw in Winnipeg or have been hearing for years from Phoenix or Nashville, really, because this isn’t about taking a franchise and copying and pasting it somewhere else. (Or that would be cutting and pasting, I guess.)

This is expansion, not relocation. That’s obvious, but it’s so obvious it’s forgotten. And the sheer lunacy of this whole story – again, the idea that all four of Quebec City, Toronto 2.0, Las Vegas, and Seattle will get brand-new NHL teams at some point in the very near future – is a huge distraction to the real breakdown.

And second, let’s give the NHL some credit here, if this really is true or is even being wholeheartedly considered (like Wyshynski also wrote, the fact that this is a story “is the most Hockey August moment in the history of Hockey August.”) Because not only does this mean that the league has completely reversed its stance on expansion, but it also means the league probably absolutely did not reverse its stance on expansion. What do I mean? Well, it’s clear now that the NHL – and its in-charge bobblehead of Bill Daly and Gary Bettman – is much smarter than the rest of us are, and those at the controls have become exceptional at letting us think otherwise.

If they take the league from 30 to 34 teams in the next decade, they’ll have surprised us all. And they’ll have kept it a secret, too.

In the words of the guy with the hat from Jurassic Park, “Clever girl.”

(And I know that Daly quickly dismissed the whole report, or several reports, that a team was coming to Las Vegas. But Daly and the NHL have lied before. Even Trevor Linden has lied before. We have all lied before. I don’t judge liars, and I don’t blame them, either. Except for Josh Shaw. That was low, pal.)

But again, I guess I have to return to the top of this piece, when I knew better than all of this and when I saw the red flag – that the only reason we’re talking about any of this is because a couple columnists decided not to sit on what they’d been told – from unnamed sources – and it all came together in a couple of days, like a wildfire of half-written thoughts and the printed words that followed them.

In other words, it’s a rumour. And until the pucks drop, it will still be a rumour.