When the name was first unveiled on live television Tuesday night, it was confusing. Vegas Golden Knights. Wait a minute. What about Las Vegas? What about representing your city?
Of course, the Coyotes are now named for Arizona and no longer for Phoenix and the Panthers go for Florida and not Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Sunrise, the city they actually play in. And the Hurricanes go by Carolina, which isn't even a state at all but a nickname.
But the more you think about it, the more I realized a place as unique as Las Vegas should come out with something unique for its first team in professional sports. And that's exactly what majority owner Bill Foley did with the Vegas show-like announcement outside T-Mobile Arena.
Yes, a video glitched and didn't play when it was supposed to (rehearsals, anyone?). Some expansion blues on the presentation end there. But the name is catchy. The logo is catchy. And there's a huge buzz about the NHL's new team just over 10 months before it plays its first regular-season game.
Foley told reporters he left off the "Las" from the team's name because locals call their home "Vegas." And, frankly, what do tourists say? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. He knew there would be instant recognition.
“In talking to locals, everyone seems to call it ‘Vegas,’” Foley said. “I also thought ‘Las Vegas Golden Knights’ was too long. So we shortened it and it sounds great to me.”
Fair enough. It remains to be seen with the transient nature of Las Vegas' burgeoning population how this team will draw fans in the long term but those who have toured the arena are wowed by it. And reporters around the league are hearing from fans in their city -- Buffalo included -- that they are eager to get a hold of the 2017-18 schedule to see when their team will be in Vegas. It seems like teams on the East Coast, as well as teams in the Central Division and Eastern Canada, all have fans looking forward to the trip.
That can be a winning recipe. So can merchandising. The team's sweaters will be unveiled in the coming months. The color scheme at home will be steel gray with black and gold trim, and white and red accents. The road uniform will be white with black, gold, gray and red. The black and gold logo has a knight's helmet with a 'V' on the face, hence another reason to use "Vegas".
The red accents were reportedly added at the suggestion of General Manager George McPhee, who has a much bigger job ahead. The hiring of Vegas' first head coach will likely not come until March at the earliest.
ESPN.com reported after the unveiling in Vegas that the NHL cleared use of the name Golden Knights with Clarkson University in Potsdam, which also uses it. To maintain secrecy before the reveal, Foley had trademarked Golden Nights along with Silver Knights and Desert Knights.
Here's hoping the name is more Golden than the last one that used that term in the NHL. In the late '60s, the Oakland Seals became the California Golden Seals but owner Charlie O. Finley's gimmicks, like white skates or switching the green and gold uniforms to teal, never took off. The Golden Seals, an Adams Division rival of the Sabres during their Stanley Cup final season of 1974-75, eventually moved to Cleveland in 1976.
Vegas is going to be built to win quickly and not languish for years like most expansion teams do. The expansion draft rules should allow the Golden Knights to get a few more quality players than most first-year teams have had in the past. Vegas scouts, including former Sabres captain Mike Foligno, are going around the league watching players to get ready. News out of Vegas in the coming months will be one of the bigger subplots to this season.
Okposo only Sabre on protected list
You will read all kinds of stories and all sorts of speculation the next few months about the expansion draft process for Vegas, which will take place during draft week in June in Chicago. An interesting piece came Wednesday from Sportsnet, which obtained a memo distributed from the NHL to teams that outlined the 66 players the league considers exempt from the expansion process because of no-move clauses.
According to the list, the only Sabres player on it who must be protected is newly signed winger Kyle Okposo. There had been plenty of speculation that Zach Bogosian had a no-movement clause that came with him from Winnipeg but that is apparently not the case. Bogosian, currently on the shelf with a knee injury, has a cap hit of just over $5.1 million for three more years. While the Sabres might want to shed that at some point, Vegas needs some big-money players to get to the cap floor. An interesting early thought.
Also of interest is the fact that the Blackhawks have a league-high eight players with a no-movement clause who must be protected. That group includes goalie Corey Crawford and skaters Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa, NIklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. So the Hawks have to decide on only one more skater to protect and it doesn't have to be Artemi Panarin, because he's exempt as a second-year player.
Clubs get their choice of protecting either a) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender. First and second-year players as well as unsigned draft picks don't have to be protected and cannot be selected. So the Sabres, for instance, don't have to use a spot to protect players such as Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart.
USA camp opens here Dec. 16
Team USA will hold the first half of its camp for the World Juniors at HarborCenter from Dec. 16-20 before prep for the tournament moves to Oshawa. Each practice in Buffalo will be from 10 a.m.-noon. The camp roster will be announced in the next few days and it's likely that two Sabres defense prospects will be on the list, in St. Cloud State's Will Borgen (fourth round, 2015) and Boston College's Casey Fitzgerald (third round, 2016). Another choice could be Youngstown native and University of Michigan blueliner Joe Cecconi, who was Dallas' fifth-round pick in 2015.
The preliminary round for both Team USA and Canada starts Dec. 26 in Toronto. The quarterfinals will be either in the Air Canada Centre or Montreal's Bell Centre, with the Bell Centre hosting the semis and finals. It's the opposite of the 2015 event, which started in Montreal and featured the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel showdown on New Year's Eve before heading to Toronto, where Canada pulled out its 5-4 win over Russia in the gold-medal game.
Dylan Strome got sent from the Arizona Coyotes to the OHL's Erie Otters and that seems like a waste of time since the No 3. pick in the 2015 draft has 240 points there the last two years and has already proven most everything he can in junior hockey. But there's hidden motivation too, as Strome will almost certainly be the No. 1 center for Team Canada. It's exactly what the Sabres did with Reinhart two years ago, and he was a major player in Canada's gold medal just as McDavid was coming back from a broken hand suffered during a fight in Erie.
Strome had one assist and was minus-5 in seven games for the Coyotes before he was sent back to junior.
“He’ll go back and have a chance to be a top player in that tournament,” coach Dave Tippett said of Strome to the Arizona Republic. “That, I think, continues the learning curve for him.”
Motor City moving
The new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit opening next year was supposed to be just for the Red Wings but the Pistons concluded months of negotiations last week and announced the surprising news they are leaving the suburban Palace of Auburn Hills, which opened in 1988, and are coming downtown as well. Detroit will thus become the 11th NHL city to share an arena with an NBA team, no small note when the league makes the schedule each year.
The other cities with an NHL/NBA share are Toronto, Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Colorado. In addition, Carolina shares its arena with North Carolina State's basketball team but that is, of course, for far fewer games than an NBA schedule.
Come next year, Detroit will have a spectacular downtown sports complex area, unmatched in any city. The Red Wings and Pistons will be playing only a couple of blocks from Ford Field (Lions) and Comerica Park (Tigers). Joe Louis Arena, the Wings' home since 1979, is likely to be demolished. The Sabres play their final two games there Dec. 27 and March 20.
Around the boards
---Best moment of the Vegas ceremony came when Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed by fans gathered in the arena plaza upon his introduction. They haven't even played a game yet and they know the league-wide tradition? Cracked a smiling Bettman: "Keep up the booing. That proves you're now an NHL city."
---Sidney Crosby credits his fast start to the season, with 14 goals and 19 points in 14 games, to the way his season kick-started in September during his MVP performance at the World Cup of Hockey. That helped him not miss a beat after he sat out the first six games with concussion issues.
"It was beneficial coming off World Cup, playing high-intensity hockey,” Crosby told the New York Times last week. “I felt like I was starting off right.”
---Signs of a young team: The Leafs entered the weekend 7-3 this season at home and have outscored opponents, 38-30. They're just 1-5-4 on the road and were outscored, 35-24. Wednesday at New Jersey, they suffered a 5-4 shootout loss in a game they led, 3-0, through 20 minutes but were tied in the first five minutes of the second period.
"It’s evident how young we are,” coach Mike Babcock said. "You’re up 3-0 and you come out and the next two plays you make in the second period are basically free gifts. Those are things … you’ve got to learn how to win. It’s very evident when you watch us play we’ve got lots to learn.”
---Absurd Carey Price stats for the Canadiens heading into the weekend: 12-1-1, 1.71 goals-against average, .945 save percentage. No apologies to Crosby or McDavid, Price is the MVP of the league thus far.
---Erik Karlsson has 16 points in his first 20 games but that's hardly what's impressing first-year coach Guy Boucher about the two-time Norris Trophy winner. Karlsson is plus-4 in his last three games and has blocked 15 shots as the surprising Senators moved solidly into third place in the Atlantic Division. "Look at Karlsson tonight. Eight blocked shots," marveled Boucher after his team's 3-1 Thanksgiving night win over Boston. "That's a guy who wants to win."