The 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft show is upon us. So are temperatures that can turn an ice rink into a mini-Lake Las Vegas in the time it takes to serve a two-minute minor.
“It’s hot, but it’s not too hot to get into hockey,” says Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer and executive vice president. “If we can get into hockey now, in this weather, we can get into it, anytime.”
The awards presentation and draft selection airs live from T-Mobile Arena at 5 p.m. Wednesday on NBCSN and Sportsnet.
The puck-melting conditions outside the venue will only serve to remind of the NHL’s nationwide outreach and the fact that the league has a long affiliation with Las Vegas. The Vegas Golden Knights might be the league’s newest expansion team, but the city has hosted seven NHL Awards shows since 2009, debuting that year at Pearl Concert Theater at The Palms, where it was held through 2011. It moved to Wynn/Encore from 2012 to 2014. It spent one year at MGM Grand Garden Arena, and was held last year at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Mayer himself has produced three of those shows, and says no NHL awards production has been as big or adventurous as the spectacle set for the 18,500-seat T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s a combination of the two – the awards and the draft – that has made it challenging for a producer, but great for the fans,” Mayer says. “We have one show, two hours, with awards being intertwined with draft picks for the Vegas team. It will be a compelling pace, even a fever pitch, as we combine both.”
The format is for an award presentation, followed by a block of player selections in four blocks. How many players are selected in each block depends on how much commentary is provided, but the process leaves plenty of loose time segments.
“A year ago, we knew the order of every award, every minute, and it was completely formatted months in advance,” Mayer said. “Not this year. We do know when the awards will fall into the show, but I don’t know what will happen exactly in the second or third segment. Bill Foley (the Golden Knights owner) might take a player form St. Louis who takes 10 seconds to talk about. But some players who have a lot of magnitude will require a longer discussion.”
The show is hosted by Joe Manganiello of the “Magic Mike” films, with a performance by Canadian alt-rock band Arkells. Otherwise, most of the celeb power will be generated by the league itself. This year the NHL marked its 100th anniversary by naming its 100 greatest players of all time, and several are presenting awards, among them Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Marcel Dionne, Bob Gainey, Ted Lindsay, Mark Messier, Denis Potvin and Bernie Parent.
But the show does not showcase some of the more recognizable entertainers or shows on the Strip — no performance by the city’s predominant production company (which happens to be based in Montreal) Cirque du Soleil, for instance. The show will incorporate clips from such longtime headliners as Penn & Teller and Blue Man Group, and Canadian transplant Mark Shunock, founder of The Space entertainment venue and formerly of “Rock of Ages,” will entertain the crowd during commercial breaks.
But otherwise — and despite officials’ efforts to bolster the entertainment lineup — the show is largely devoid of Vegas oomph.
Instead, as Mayer says, the sport and its stars will carry the show.
“You’re going to see a lot of pomp and style in the show, some great personalities, great highlights on the ice and how we like to do things big,” Mayer said. “We’re doing this in a new arena – it used to be held in 1,500- or 1,600-seat theaters – and people are going to see how NHL is done in Vegas.
“When they see that, they’ll say, ‘Wow, hockey is pretty cool.’ ”
In the searing heat of Vegas, we say, bring it on.
Note: This version of the column corrects the first name of the Golden Knights owner.