I’d first like to offer a hearty and heartfelt congratulations to the people and the fans of Las Vegas, and welcome all to the NHL family. There’s nothing quite like it.
As a fan of one of the most recent expansion teams (the Columbus Blue Jackets), I can provide a little bit of my own experiences for what to expect.
From the hockey standpoint, it’s going to be a whirlwind. There will be a GM and coaching staff named, a scouting staff added, an expansion draft, and an entry draft all taking place within the next 365 days. None of that currently exists, and the rate at which the franchise will be constructed seemingly out of nothing will be dizzying. Your team is going from an employee list of roughly five today to many times that number in less than a year. If you’re a current hockey fan, you may be familiar with the names out there for the various positions; if you’re not, there’s plenty of time to do so.
From an off-ice standpoint, I can absolutely provide a bit of insight on what to expect. There will be a lot of excitement that builds, but it’s not truly going to reach a crescendo; it’ll just keep going and going. In five years, you’ll wonder what life was like without an NHL team.
On the flip side of that, I can tell you from firsthand experience that there is an unfortunate underbelly that exists within the world of hockey. And that is the group that I kindly refer to as “relocationists” and unkindly refer to by various other names, most of which are obscene.
See, there exists an unusually pervasive idea that hockey “belongs” only to certain areas or certain people, and that only those people “deserve” hockey. All others outside of these areas inherently are undeserving, and nothing can ever be done to make them deserving. Sell out every game to watch the worst team in the league? If you’re in a “deserving” area, it’s a sign that you’re a passionate fanbase. If you’re in an “undeserving” area, it means nothing. If games don’t sell out in a “deserving” area to watch a bad team, it’s because they’re sending a message that failure is not acceptable. If games don’t sell out in an “undeserving” area, it’s because the fans don’t care unless the team is winning, a clear mark of an “undeserving” area.
If this sentiment seems completely absurd, it’s because it is. Atlanta, Nashville, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Columbus, North Carolina, and Los Angeles have all had professional hockey of some type going back into the 1960s, yet all are regarded by the “deserving” as “undeserving”. Hell, Dallas sold out every single NHL game for seven years, yet still gets to hear from a bunch of relocationists about why their team needs to be sent packing to some other locale. Hint: it’s not another venue in Texas. Relocationism doesn’t cluster among certain population segments or countries; the only common theme is that it’s only held onto by loudmouthed busybodies.
Relocationism takes many forms. Ever since the outright phrase “your city doesn’t deserve a team” has fallen out of fashion, it’s been replaced by concerns about “talent dilution” (which is total garbage). You’ll get to hear about “market sustainability”, as if someone whose entire knowledge of Las Vegas consists of watching twenty minutes of Casino with the sound off knows the first thing about life in or the economy of Vegas. You’ll hear some idiotic ramblings about how hockey shouldn’t be played in a place where it almost never snows, which is moronic on its face. There will be condescension of various kinds, some flagrant and some simply less flagrant. You can sell out the building for ten years and paper the Strip in the team logo, and certain people will still refer to it as “an experiment”.
I’m not saying this to be discouraging, but simply to provide advance warning in what to expect in the near future. Undoubtedly you’ve seen some of it already. Me? I’ve been hearing it for 16 years of my team being on the ice, 19 if you include the time starting when Columbus was actually granted the franchise. It’s an abhorrent attitude that’s held by a select minority of simpletons, but it exists.
Thankfully, relocationism isn’t a majority opinion by any means. It’s largely clung to by a handful of sad, pathetic, bitter people who feel some compelling need to act like a bunch of spoiled children simply because someone else is happy. That such people shout the loudest is more a reflection on them than on hockey or hockey fans as a whole. I’ve met a huge number of hockey fans from all over North America, and the overwhelming majority are terrific.
So, fans of Vegas, take heart. You have an NHL team on the way, and a bunch of grumbling jerks isn’t going to change that. You have plenty of people outside of Vegas who are rooting for you. I’m among them; I have seven or eight Las Vegas jerseys in my possession (split between the Wranglers and Thunder) to prove it. There are a lot of us in the other markets above – Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Carolina, Phoenix, among others – that are on your side.
Do you have to prove yourselves to anyone? Not at all. That became unnecessary on June 22, 2016, at about the instant that the NHL announced that Las Vegas will be home to a new team. If a handful of annoying, bitter people can’t appreciate that and simply want to complain, that’s their issue. Don’t let it spoil your entrance to the biggest party in hockey.