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NHL expansion, with Las Vegas in mix, may come into clearer focus Monday

PITTSBURGH — For weeks, it has been all quiet on the NHL expansion front. Too quiet, in fact, for hockey fans in Las Vegas who have been patiently waiting for word that they will have a team to root for in the near future.

That may change Monday when commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks.

Bettman is expected to give an update on league expansion and whether or not the final touches can be put on an agreement among the existing 30 owners to make an announcement before the end of June. The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas the week of the league’s annual awards show, which will be June 22 at the Hard Rock Hotel.

At the very least, Bettman can end some of the rumors that have span the spectrum from no expansion to a deal is already done.

Bill Foley, the billionaire businessman who is behind the Las Vegas bid, will be interested to hear what Bettman says. So will fans in Quebec City, with the Quebecor corporation also applying for an expansion team along with Las Vegas last July.

“We’ve been in a holding pattern,” Foley said. “We’ve been patiently waiting to hear (from the NHL). We’ve given them everything they’ve asked and so far there haven’t been any issues.”

Bettman said at the general managers meetings in March that there would need to be at least one year’s notice for any expansion to allow not only the new team or teams to prepare but for the existing teams to formulate and craft their rosters looking ahead to an expansion draft in June 2017. The NHL and its Players Association agreed on rules for an expansion draft in April and the NHLPA says it is not standing in the way of the process moving forward.

With June at hand, if there is going to be expansion for 2017, the final hurdles need to be cleared.

Foley is prepared to pay $500 million to join the NHL. He has a lease to play his team’s games at the 17,500-seat T-Mobile Arena and he has plans for a $17 million practice facility in Summerlin that will have as many as four ice sheets and will also be home to the team’s offices.

He has been quietly working behind the scenes to be ready should he get the green light from the NHL. He has been locking up domain names for the team to be used on the Internet and he has settled on black, gold and gray as the team’s colors. From the outset, Foley has liked the idea of calling his team the “Black Knights,” in part in tribute to the United States Military Academy of which he is a graduate. He is not looking at any names with gambling references because he knows the NHL would not approve such branding.

He has also been lining up the support of corporate sponsors so once he has the go-ahead, he can begin signing companies to be part of the business end of the operation.

And yes, Foley has a list of names for the people he wants to hire to run his hockey team, when and if it comes to pass. He won’t reveal the names at this point but he said he wants to be ready.

“I hope we don’t have to wait too much longer,” he said.

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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