Odds heavily favor Las Vegas getting NHL team

Don Logan saw the enthusiasm, the interest, the passion for hockey in the desert. He remembers how the Thomas & Mack Center came alive for the sport of ice. He believes it can happen again.

“I haven’t seen any sort of excitement here as hockey had other than for UNLV basketball back in its heyday,” Logan said. “Our market is evolving. Major league sports are coming, and with MGM involved with the arena, it takes that type of commitment to make it happen.

“There is a market for hockey. MGM has the horsepower to get a lot of people who are visiting here to spend 2½ to three hours out of their evening at a game.”

Logan worked seven years for the Las Vegas Thunder of the International Hockey League during the mid-1990s, with the team that wore teal, black silver and white gear and had a polar bear as its mascot. Boom-Boom might not be what Bill Foley has in mind to get a crowd on its feet between periods for his proposed NHL team in Las Vegas, but he could do worse.

Logan is president of the 51s and was one of those who packed a casino studio ballroom Tuesday to witness the kickoff to a season-ticket drive designed to gauge local interest for Foley’s commitment to bring an NHL team to Las Vegas and into the MGM-AEG arena being built behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo.

It seems interest is serious.

Not two days into the drive, Foley’s group said it had received season-ticket deposits for 50 percent of its intended goal of 10,000. It’s the latest positive step in a direction that appears obvious: When commissioner Gary Bettman stood in front of assembled media Tuesday and said nothing was certain about the NHL and Las Vegas, he was really saying that nothing is certain yet.

This is happening.

The train is already moving too fast to believe otherwise.

Expansion is the hottest topic around NHL circles today because there is little doubt the suits desire two evenly balanced conferences and more equitable odds for everyone to make the playoffs.

That means two more teams out West. That means a franchise in Las Vegas, where money from ownership isn’t an issue and a state-of-the-art rink is on its way, is far more inevitable than Bettman is letting on.

But what happens when it gets here?

There aren’t two more important factors in a hockey expansion team succeeding for the long term than support from the corporate and local side of things. The casinos are certainly a good start for the latter when it comes to purchasing luxury suites and offering packages that allow visitors to take a breath from the tables.

“It will be just one more amenity to offer those coming into town,” Logan said. “The days of locking people in the casino are over. That’s why we have great golf, great shows, the best dining in the country. People from out of town will go to games. Hockey is a great game in person. We saw that with the Thunder. This is a good thing for Las Vegas — people out buying tickets to sporting events. It only enhances the community.”

But what about when the shine wears off the puck?

How would Foley and an ownership group that includes the Maloof family ensure a Las Vegas franchise doesn’t go the way of, say, Atlanta, which became the NHL’s first modern era city to have its team relocated to different cities twice?

The early interest from Foley’s ticket campaign is a good sign, but this also would be the league’s smallest media market next to Buffalo, N.Y. The initial interest and buzz would be vast, especially if the team’s eventual nickname and logo cause the community to rush to stores, but it’s going to take more than merely being the only major league show in town to remain viable for decades and decades to come.

One person, and his name won’t come as a surprise, is convinced it will happen.

“Las Vegas is a sports hungry town,” Foley said. “This team is going to give Las Vegas an identity it has never had, from the kids of youth hockey to all citizens of the community. We are going to bring a winner here. I’m going to make it easy on people to support this team, because we’re going to win.

“I’ve already been working with some very knowledgeable hockey people on the type of team we would have. Fast and aggressive. We are going to get it done here, and we are going to get it done quickly. I’m having fun. We’re in the home stretch. Every time we win a game, it will be that much more fun.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN Radio 1100 AM and 100.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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