It sure sounds like Las Vegas is getting another hockey team and the ramifications of this development will be huge. Can anyone say “2025 World Junior Championship?” That’s just one exciting possibility.
According to the Sin Bin Vegas blog, the Vegas Golden Knights are poised to move their AHL affiliate to the Orleans Arena as soon as next season, with a new rink to be built for the team in the near future.
Having their AHL team in Vegas would be a clear development win for the Golden Knights, as it makes call-ups and development easier and can even maximize cap space thanks to a lack of necessary travel. NHL teams such as Toronto, San Jose and Winnipeg all have their AHL affiliates in the same town right now.
With Seattle already announcing a new AHL franchise in Palm Springs, this does present the farm league with another game of musical chairs, however. The Chicago Wolves are currently Vegas’ affiliate and that venerable franchise would need a new NHL partner in this scenario. Geographically, this may be tough. While the Chicago Blackhawks would be an obvious fit, their affiliate is already in-state with the Rockford IceHogs. The St. Louis Blues are closer to Chicago than San Antonio, where their current affiliate plays, but the flight difference is only about an hour and the Blues were already linked to the Wolves recently, splitting the team with Vegas when the Golden Knights first entered the league.
The only match that would make sense is Vancouver, who currently has to ship its prospects all the way on the other side of the continent in Utica. Chicago would still be a substantial flight for Canucks players to make, but it would be a shorter trip than to Upstate New York.
But I’ll leave that messy business to the folks who actually make the decisions. Let’s get to the fun stuff: a world juniors in Vegas.
This seems like a total slam-dunk and in fact, I had this very conversation over dinner with a number of fellow prospect writers in Ostrava during this year’s tournament. At the time, the only issue was the location of the second rink for the shindig – and now it sounds like they’ll have one.
The United States next hosts the world juniors in 2025 and it will be fascinating to see who the bidders are. Buffalo was a wash-out in 2018 due to attendance woes caused by the over-saturation of the Southern Ontario market during that time, so USA Hockey needs to be creative after choosing Buffalo twice in a row (the much more successful 2011 tournament was before that). If they want to go ‘traditional,’ Detroit and Plymouth, Mich. would be an obvious choice and maybe Canadians across the border would be enticed again by the proximity.
Vegas, however, is as enticing as it gets for the holiday tournament. Can you imagine how easy it would be to lure folks from Canada or other parts of the U.S. to Las Vegas in late December/early January? Keep in mind, literally thousands of Canadians just made the not-easy trek to eastern Czechia for the same tournament. Direct flights? Check. Restaurants and hotels? Yeah, Las Vegas can probably handle that, too.
Let’s not discount the home crowd, either. Golden Knights fans have already come out in legion for their NHL squad and I don’t think it would be too hard for them to get behind Team USA for the tournament, not to mention any Golden Knights prospect who happens to play for Russia or Sweden that year.
The best, best-case scenario would be a home-grown kid playing for the Americans. Grassroots hockey in Nevada is growing in leaps and bounds thanks to the arrival of the Golden Knights and while Las Vegas doesn’t have its own Auston Matthews yet, it’s only a matter of time if things continue to trend up in Nevada.
Many factors go into choosing a world junior host (including the guaranteed money offered by the host city), but now that Vegas has a second rink coming, it’s hard to find a reason not to give them the tournament if they wanted it. Bidding will likely begin in early 2021 and USA Hockey likes to have its host city determined at least two years out, if not two-and-a-half. Along with Detroit, other cities like Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa could also be in the mix.
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