For the first time since the 2000 National Hockey League expansion, a new league franchise prepares to tighten their skates and hit the ice. The Las Vegas Golden Knights are set to join the NHL in the 2017-18 season as the 31st team in the league.
The Golden Knights join the Pacific Division, slotting themselves as the 15th team in Western Conference of the NHL. They plan to host their games at the T-Mobile Arena, which has a capacity of 17,368. While hockey fans rejoice for the sport reaching new areas and drawing in new fans, the expansion does not come sans a unique set of problems.
The Golden Knights become the first major league team in the history of professional sports to base out of Las Vegas, a city famous for its gambling. While the clear majority of states regulate or illegalize gambling involving professional sports, Nevada remains one of the few that allow it.
This notion caused some concern within the sports community; this inclusion of Las Vegas, however, can also reflect the trend of acceptance toward sports gambling in the past decade. Fantasy sport leagues and sites are on the rise; what was once a taboo and frowned upon practice has slowly embedded itself as a thrilling pastime.
Expect to see a huge change in the near future when it comes to the relationship between professional sports and gambling, as the Las Vegas Golden Knights may become the face of professional sports gambling given their location.
Additionally, in a more ‘game-state’ sense, the induction of a new team creates a competitive field of 31 teams, as opposed to an even and established field of 30. While there will be some changes to teams’ schedules—especially in the west—the league has made no change or realignments for playoffs.
Sporting an even number field, teams in the Eastern Conference play 28 divisional games. This consists of four against their division opponents, 24 non-divisional games, three games against the eight teams from the other eastern division and twice against every Western Conference opponent.
The Western Conference, on the other hand, becomes more of a hassle with an odd number of teams at 15. Each western team still plays twice against all 16 eastern opponents and three games in Pacific vs. Central matchups, but leaves the seven teams in the Central division to divide their remaining 26 games among themselves and the eight teams in the Pacific division to divide their remaining 29 games among themselves, now that the Golden Knights are included.
While creating some inconsistency in the amount of games western teams play in their division, it is expected to have a minimal effect upon playoff seeding due to all the teams playing an 82-game season.
One last major issue presented for the new team stems from where their roster will come. While looking to benefit from free agents, the Golden Knights will rely primarily on the ruling of an expansion draft that takes place on June 21. This draft allows the Golden Knights to select a single, unprotected player from each established NHL team to take and add to their roster.
While red lights immediately flash at the notion that the Golden Knights may become the greatest, most “stacked” team in the league, the draft follows a strict set of rules to protect the interests of the already established franchises. All teams are allowed to protect a certain amount of players—a choice of eight skaters and a goaltender, or seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender—from being drafted. Additionally, teams can have last year’s and this year’s rookies exempt from the selection and can have all “no movement” contracts upheld.
Though expansions hold their unique difficulties, fans are excited to see more of the sport they love and cannot wait to see a higher level of competitiveness with the addition of another team.