The NHL loves what's going in Sin City as the Vegas Golden Knights are one of the talking points of the league. They're building what might be the best campaign ever for an expansion team, a hit on the ice and a success off it with a glistening new arena and a popular logo for the first pro sports entry in Nevada.
And the Golden Knights were a big hit in other owners' pockets as Bill Foley paid a $500 million expansion fee to join his new club. Foley endured a painstaking process, going through a season-ticket drive to show his market was worthy before being able to apply for a franchise and ultimately getting chosen to start play in October.
Things have gone so well in Vegas that the league made the surprising announcement on Thursday that it's fast-tracking a bid for Seattle to become the league's 32nd team.
Commissioner Gary Bettman tried to put the brakes on when speaking to reporters at a Board of Governors meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., but it's obvious what the league is doing. The Seattle group, led by billionaire David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, has already been invited to apply, a cozy fee of $650 million has been set and no one else is allowed into the application process. Sorry, Quebec City.
"From everything I know viscerally, I think it'll be a good market," Bettman said. "I think the geographic rivalry with Vancouver as potential will be nice. Building up a bigger presence in the Pacific Northwest for the NHL, a place that we know has great hockey interest at a variety of other levels, it's an intriguing possibility. But we've got homework to do."
The league has long been fascinated with Seattle as a hockey market, as a way of carving into the Northwest. Seattle has a strong history of junior hockey in the Western League and would be a natural rival for Vancouver. The Canucks are only about two hours away and could actually ponder a bus trip for a road game from Vancouver for the first time in their history.
You would think Seattle would be an attractive travel destination for NHL fans, especially in the franchise's infancy, and would have a huge influx of British Columbia visitors for games against many Canadian teams. Seattle is a huge landing spot for Blue Jays fans during baseball season and it stands to reason that there would be plenty of fans of the Maple Leafs heading there as well. same for Edmonton and Calgary.
The NHL was simply waiting for Seattle to get its house in order regarding an arena. That finally happened last week, when a memorandum of understanding was signed by the city and the Oak View Group for a $600 million renovation of Key Arena, the former home of the NBA's SuperSonics. It will be converted to a prime combination NHL/NBA facility.
Seattle will also give the NHL perfect balance in its conferences, with 16 teams in the East and 16 in the West. A Seattle team would head to the Pacific Division, which would force one team in that group to move to the Central to keep both Western divisions at eight teams. Arizona might be the logical club to make such a move.
One thing the NHL has to be concerned about compared to Las Vegas is that Seattle is already a crowded sports market. The Seahawks and Mariners are long-entrenched franchises dating to the 1970s and the Sounders are perennially one of the top clubs in Major League Soccer. The likely return to the NBA could push hockey further down the pecking order, so this will be no sure-fire success model like it appears we're seeing in Las Vegas.
So where does this leave other cities? Bettman said there's nothing new about Houston even though new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said a few weeks ago he has interest in getting a club into Toyota Center. And it once again leaves Quebec City on the outside looking on.
The Videotron Centre, which this corner visited for a World Cup of Hockey exhibition game 15 months ago, would easily be one of the top 10 arenas in the NHL. But Bettman remains focused on American markets, and Quebec looks like it will continue to be a last-resort place if a franchise wants to relocate. And even at that, the fees involved to get in now would price that locale out of contention when you factor in the Canadian dollar.
As it stands, relocation prospects look slim. The league is committed to helping Arizona find a new arena and Carolina is now going to be under new ownership. As part of the same board meeting, the NHL confirmed the sale of the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos to Dallas businessman Tom Dundon. He will have 52 percent of the team and gave assurances he's there to operate it in Raleigh and not ponder a move to Houston or elsewhere. He's obligated to stay for seven years as part of the sale.
As for relocation candidates, arena situations need to be figured out with Calgary, Ottawa and the New York Islanders, and we're a long way away from any of them being viable parties to move. While attendance remains an issue in Florida, ownership there is known to be strongly committed to continuing to operate the Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Perhaps someday the NHL might go to 34 teams. It could be the only way Quebec ever gets back in.
Miller climbs American goalie chart
Ryan Miller made 29 saves for the Ducks in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over Ottawa, getting his first shutout for Anaheim and the 40th of his career. That tied him for second among American-born goalies with John Vanbiesbrouck and Frank Brimsek. Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick is the leader at 46.
“All these little things are just nice to have,” said Miller said. “It means you’ve been playing a while. That’s just a bonus for me. I got the chance to be an NHL player and as long as I can kind of stretch it out, I’ve tried to enjoy every moment.”
Miller entered the weekend 3-0-4 with a 1.73 goals-against average and .945 save percentage this season in eight games for Anaheim after opening the season on the injured list with a wrist problem. He has 361 career wins, fourth among active goalies.
Devils Lovejoy steps up for science
Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, a former Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh, has become the first active NHL player to pledge to donate his brain to the CTE center at Boston University for research on concussions, it was announced Thursday.
"I hope I live until I'm 90-plus years old and concussion issues and CTE are cured long before my brain is looked at by the doctors," Lovejoy said a release issued by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which collaborates with BU. "I am lucky. I have had very little head trauma throughout my career. But I have had teammates, both high profile stars and minor role players, who have struggled with concussions."
Trotz: Shattenkirk isn't a No. 1-2
Whether he meant to or not, Capitals coach Barry Trotz threw a little shade at Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in advance of Friday's matchup between the teams. Shattenkirk signed in New York over the summer after an unsuccessful deadline acquisition last spring by the Caps.
Shattenkirk struggled mightily at times during Washington's six-game survival against Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were then eliminated by Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the second round.
"I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2 and he really wasn't," Trotz said, referring to a team's top pair. "He was a little lower. I think it worked out OK. I think he had a patch during the one series where it wasn't really good. I think he regained it and scored a big goal for us in Pitt.
"I think it takes a little bit of adjustment. We play a little different than some teams. It worked in areas that we wanted. He helped our power play. He made it more dangerous."
They said it
* Regular Leafs watchers say Patrick Marleau has been a spectacular addition in the locker room as much as his penchant for scoring game-winning goals. Second-year studs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, in particular, have bonded with the 38-year-old Marleau. Joked Matthews to TSN: "He's got four kids at home and two on the road."
* New Sabres forward Scott Wilson, on being traded twice in less than a month (from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Buffalo): "This time It wasn't even that weird really. I had just gone through it."
* Oilers coach Todd McLellan has had enough of the badgering defenseman Kris Russell is taking, especially on social media in the wake of an own-goal in the final 90 seconds that cost the Oilers a recent game against the Leafs.
Railed McLellan: "I know all the analytic nerds out there find ways to run him into the ground but he means a lot to our team. ... I'm pretty sure a lot of guys in that locker room down the hallway would tell you the same thing. So analytics that, if you want."
* Colorado coach Jared Bendar agreed with the notion that former Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov is still on the up-and-down folks saw from the former first-round pick in Buffalo
"We got the up and down and there came a point last season for ... 10-12 games, a good portion of the season, we saw real good play out of him," Bednar said. "Physical, smart, consistent. We're kind of doing the same thing now so we're hoping for the same direction. At some point for his career to move it forward and continue to grow and become more of an impact player, he'll have to solve some of those issues at the start of the season."