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NHL finalizing plans to bring marquee event to the Sphere

Updated December 5, 2023 - 7:26 pm

The NHL is nearing an official announcement on holding its 2024 draft at the Sphere, commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.

“We are finalizing plans to hold it at the Sphere, which we think will be exciting and creative,” Bettman said after the conclusion of the league’s Board of Governors meetings in Seattle.

The NHL has yet to announce when the 2024 draft will take place, but the event typically happens in late June. It’s expected to be June 28 and 29.

The Las Vegas event could be the final one for which all 32 teams will be on location. The NHL will decentralize the draft in future years and allow teams to make their selections remotely.

A representative for the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns and operates the Sphere, referred a request for comment to the NHL.

The Golden Knights, who are set to play the Blues in St. Louis on Wednesday, deferred comment until the deal has been finalized.

Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee told NHL.com the team was excited about hosting the draft at the Sphere.

“Anyone you talk to says it is just out of this world,” McPhee said. “It’s just a fascinating and incredible opportunity. Holy cow, what a monumental moment in sports.”

Bettman raved about the possibilities the venue provides. The band U2 opened the Sphere with a production that drew praise from critics and fans alike.

“I think it’ll be pretty dramatic,” Bettman said. “It will the first sporting event in the Sphere, and I think it’ll be a pretty well-viewed event both in terms of the draft itself and the viral use of the Sphere inside and outside using the globe. We think it’ll be fun. We think it’ll be dramatic and compelling.”

Las Vegas is no stranger to hosting some of the NHL’s marquee events. The 2017 expansion draft, 2022 All-Star Game and a number of the league’s annual awards shows have been in town in recent years.

The Knights also played in the 2018 and 2023 Stanley Cup Finals at T-Mobile Arena, winning the latter.

The top prize in the 2024 draft is considered to be Boston University center Macklin Celebrini. The 17-year-old freshman leads the Terriers with 25 points in 15 games.

Celebrini and the rest of the top prospects will be entering a league that is expected to raise its salary cap next season. Bettman announced the upper limit will rise $4.2 million next year to $87.7 million. It will be the first increase of more than $4 million since the 2018-19 season.

The extra flexibility could prove important to the Knights. Their pending unrestricted free agents include right wing Jonathan Marchessault, center Chandler Stephenson, left wing William Carrier and defensemen Alec Martinez and Ben Hutton.

Bettman also said the NHL plans to approve an international in-season tournament featuring the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden.

The goal would be to start next season and limit participation to NHL players.

Bettman said the league is still working with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation on an agreement to allow players to participate in the 2026 Winter Games in Milan, Italy, as well. There are several hurdles to clear. One is Milan needs to accelerate the construction of its arena.

NHL players have not had a break for an in-season event since the 2014 Olympics. They haven’t participated in an international event since the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.

“We know it’s important to the players to go (to the Olympics), and we want to make it happen,” Bettman said. “We’re going to be as flexible as we can, but at some point we’ve got to do a schedule for that season.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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