NHL approves expansion to Las Vegas with team to play in 2017-18

LAS VEGAS -- The NHL is now officially the first major professional sports league to gamble on Las Vegas.

On Wednesday, the NHL's board of governors unanimously approved expanding to this city, making the franchise the 31st team in the league.

The team will start play during the 2017-18 season and will be included in the Pacific Division. The league said its current playoff format will not change.

In the expansion draft, which will take place next year, the Las Vegas franchise must select one player from each team for a total of 30 players, with at least 20 being under contract for the 2017-18 season. The franchise also must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

Each existing team will have two options for protected lists, which they must submit by 5 p.m. ET on June 17, 2017: They can make seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender unavailable in the draft or do the same for eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender. Players in their first and second years and unsigned draft choices will be exempt from selection.

Players with "no movement" clauses in their contracts who decline to waive those rights must be included in a club's protected list.

Players with potentially career-ending injuries or who missed more than 60 consecutive games for their clubs cannot be used by teams to satisfy the quota of exposed players.

Teams must expose at least one defenseman and two forwards who are under contract in 2017-18 and who played in 40 or more games in the NHL the prior season or 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

Teams must also expose one goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent when his contract expires before the 2017-18 season. If a club chooses the latter option, the goaltender must have received a qualifying offer from the club before it submits its protected list.

The deadline for the Las Vegas franchise to submit its selections is 5 p.m. ET on June 20, 2017. The team's selections will be announced on June 21, 2017.

In the 2017 NHL draft lottery, the Las Vegas team will have the same odds as the team finishing with the third-lowest point total in 2016-17 and will be guaranteed to pick no lower than sixth in the first round. It will pick third in each round for the remainder of the draft.

"In the fall of 2017, when we celebrate the 100th birthday of the NHL, we will do so as a League of 31 teams," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "We are pleased to welcome Bill Foley and the city of Las Vegas to the League and are truly excited that an NHL franchise will be the first major professional sports team in this vibrant, growing, global destination city."

Foley paid the $500 million expansion fee to bring NHL hockey to Las Vegas, and the announcement is the culmination of two years of hard work that included a successful season-ticket drive to prove local interest.

"I know there's a lot of work to do now," Foley told ESPN's Scott Burnside in an interview shortly before the board of governors agreed to expand to Las Vegas.

"It's taken a long time. It's been a long process. And I say that as a compliment to Gary Bettman and the league and other owners. They've all been great. But it has been a process."

Sports leagues once rejected Las Vegas outright because of concerns about corruption from Vegas' massive sports betting economy, but the NHL no longer shares those worries, with Bettman calling his sport "less susceptible" to gambling interests because of the small volume of bets placed on hockey.

Foley said he realizes his team might not be alone in Vegas for long. Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is interested in partnering with Vegas entities to build an enormous domed football stadium for his team.

"I think the NFL would be great here," Foley said. "They have a different fan base than we do. I don't think it will affect us."

Foley said he hasn't decided on a nickname or logo for his team, but an announcement could be made in the next few weeks. He has strongly considered the Black Knights, a name that has special meaning to Foley, a West Point graduate.

"I love Black Knights," Foley said. "I'm an Army guy, but maybe that's not the right name for the team at this time. We're going to work through the league."

Las Vegas will play its home games on the Vegas strip at T-Mobile Arena, an arena with a hockey capacity of 17,500. Foley has already accepted more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits and sold out all 44 suites in the rink.

"We won't sell out every game with season-ticket holders, but I believe it's going to be 85 percent, 90 percent [filled by season-ticket holders]," he said.

The team will compete in the Western Conference, which now has 15 teams compared to 16 in the East.

It's the first expansion in the NHL since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild started play during the 2000-01 season.

"This expansion comes at a time [when the NHL] is more competitive than ever, ownership is stronger than ever, the player base is more talented than ever and the business and future opportunities for the business is greater than ever," Bettman said.

The move to Las Vegas completes a longtime relationship with the city and the NHL. The NHL's postseason awards show, which was held Wednesday evening, has been hosted in Las Vegas since 2009. The Los Angeles Kings have played in several exhibition games in Las Vegas, including a 1991 outdoor game against the New York Rangers in the Caesars Palace parking lot.

The approval of Las Vegas as the next NHL city temporarily puts Quebec City's hopes of landing a team on hold. Quebec City was the other city to go through the NHL's formal expansion process, but ultimately the league decided to settle on one franchise for now, keeping open the option of Quebec as a relocation destination for a current NHL team.

Bettman announced that Quebec City's expansion application has been deferred.

"The decision to defer, however, was based on elements over which the Quebec City group had no control of whatsoever."

Bettman cited fluctuation of the Canadian dollar and the league's geographic imbalance as reasons for deferring Quebec City's application.

"The expansion process conducted over the past year gave us an excellent opportunity to present our business plan and promote Quebec City as a city that can support an NHL franchise," said Pierre Dion, CEO and president of Quebecor. "We will continue to work with determination to achieve this goal."

Jeremy Jacobs called Quebec City a strong candidate for future expansion.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.