LAS VEGAS – The NHL awards will be handed out here Thursday night, leading many to believe this is the first step in Sin City getting either an existing or expansion franchise.
But commissioner Gary Bettman said Las Vegas is not on the NHL’s radar at the moment, despite the notion it could be a fertile market for the league.
“We’re not looking at expanding or relocating right now,” Bettman said. “We know there is a great expression of interest and everyone knows of Las Vegas’ attributes, but this isn’t the time to have that discussion.”
Billionaire hotel magnate George Maloof, who owns the Palms Resort & Casino where the awards are being held, also owns the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and would be a natural candidate to bring NHL hockey to Las Vegas, but said the league is not in his family’s plans at the moment.
Maloof did say, however, Las Vegas would be a prime market for the league. The first thing the city would need is an NHL facility and there are no plans to build one in the immediate future.
“I think Las Vegas is a great market,” Maloof said. “There’s a huge core of people who live in this town who want to do other things. I’m one of them.”
For his part, Bettman is not concerned about the optics of having an NHL team in a city whose primary industry centers on gambling.
“I’m not sure the gaming issues, if we ever got to that point, would be necessarily that big a deal because we’re a very small part of the sports book,” Bettman said. “Unlike some of the other sports, we don’t lend ourselves to being bet on as much and the books aren’t as large as basketball or football.”
The chatter won’t go away, however, that it’s just a matter of time before Las Vegas gets an NHL team. In fact, the conspiracy theorists out there insist that if local buyers are found for the Phoenix Coyotes, the team will move to Las Vegas with the league’s blessing if it can’t work in Glendale.
Film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer has even been linked to an NHL team in Las Vegas, although he has never formally applied for one.
“I know Jerry,” said Jeremy Roenick. “He’ll put a team here, don’t worry. And I think it will be sooner rather than later. Especially if the league keeps building the way it is, it will happen.”
THE SAGA CONTINUES
Bettman said he wasn’t the least bit surprised by the news Jim Balsillie intends to continue to pursue purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes and moving them to Hamilton, despite the fact bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum essentially ruled against Balsillie earlier this week.
“This is an ongoing process and it’s not something I think people should anticipate changing day by day,” Bettman said. “This is a process we’re going through and at the end of the process, we hope the right result is reached, namely that the Coyotes emerge from bankruptcy – which we don’t think they should have been in in the first place – and that the club stays in Phoenix.”
Roenick said he will make up his mind about his hockey future over the next two weeks, though he seems to be leaning towards retirement.
“I haven’t made a total final decision, but I am leaning a certain way,” Roenick said. “I have pondered it very hard and it’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.”
When asked what the main factors in his decision are, he said, “My health, my kids’ ages, what the team needs, whether I want to play nine minutes a game 25 games a year, whether I’ve outworn my welcome. Twenty years is a long time.”
Despite some wild rumors that both he and Chris Chelios might end up in Chicago for one last hurrah with the Blackhawks, Roenick was quick to put an end to that notion, saying it will be the Sharks or nobody.
“I won’t put another shirt on,” Roenick said. “San Jose has given me the opportunity to bring back the passion and gave me back the dignity and the respect I thought I deserved.”
Man On The Street: Vegas a hockey town?
PRODUCER: TED COOPER
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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