On Wednesday, the NHL is expected to announce that the league is adding an expansion franchise in Las Vegas to begin play in the 2017-18 season. The franchise would be Las Vegas’ first in one of the four major North American pro sports leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB).
Las Vegas would play its home games at the T-Mobile Arena, which has a capacity of 17,500 for hockey. The arena opened in April 2016 and is slated to host two Los Angeles Kings exhibition games this October.
Las Vegas first hosted an NHL game in September 1991, when the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played an outdoor game at Caesars Palace. The Kings have also played other exhibition games in Las Vegas dating back to the late 1990’s.
Additionally, the NHL has held its postseason awards show in Las Vegas since 2009.
The NHL may not be the only one of the major pro leagues to set up shop in Las Vegas. In the NFL, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis has explored the possibility of a move to Las Vegas after essentially being designated the second option (after the San Diego Chargers) to potentially be co-tenants with the Rams in a new stadium in Los Angeles.
A brief history of pro sports in Las Vegas
Though UNLV basketball has dominated the local sports scene in Las Vegas since the late 1970’s, the city has had several minor teams of note over the years.
The longest-tenured pro team in Las Vegas is the Las Vegas 51s of baseball’s Class AAA Pacific Coast League. The 51s began play as the Las Vegas Stars in 1983.
The first hockey team of prominence in Las Vegas was the Thunder of the now-defunct IHL. The Thunder played in Las Vegas from 1993-99 and once featured Radek Bonk, the third-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Draft by the Senators. Bonk came over from the Czech Republic to play for the Thunder to gain pro experience in North America prior to the draft.
After the Thunder, the hockey torch in Las Vegas was picked up by the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers, who lasted from 2003-14.
Las Vegas also has had brief encounters with pro soccer. The NASL Las Vegas Quicksilvers, which featured Portuguese legend Eusebio, played a single season in the city in 1977.
Later on, the city had indoor soccer teams in the MISL (Las Vegas Americans, 1984-85) and the CISL (Las Vegas Dustdevils, 1994-95).
In 1996, the Oakland Athletics played regular season home games at Cashman Field in Las Vegas at the start of that season due to renovations to the Oakland Coliseum.
And in 2007, the NBA held its All-Star Game in Las Vegas, the first (and only) time the league held its midseason event in a non-league city.
NHL expansion timeline
The expected addition of Las Vegas is just the latest in what have been numerous expansions by the NHL since the end of the “Original Six” Era in 1967:
1967 –- League expands to 12 teams, adding California Seals (who would later move to Cleveland and then merge with Minnesota North Stars), Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars), Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
1972 –- League adds Atlanta Flames (now Calgary Flames) and New York Islanders.
1974 –- League adds Kansas City Scouts (now New Jersey Devils) and Washington Capitals.
1979 –- League adds four former World Hockey Association teams: Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes), Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) and Winnipeg Jets (now Arizona Coyotes).
1991 –- League adds San Jose Sharks.
1992 –- League adds Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
1998 –- League adds Nashville Predators.
1999 –- League adds Atlanta Thrashers (now 2nd version of Winnipeg Jets).
2000 –- League adds Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.
2016 –- League expected to announce new Las Vegas franchise to begin play in 2017-18.