Las Vegas welcomes NHL for awards, meetings

LAS VEGAS (AP) — With talk of expansion to Las Vegas percolating, the city welcomes the NHL this week for another awards show while general managers and the board of governors set the league’s short- and long-term future.

This is the first time the general managers are meeting in Las Vegas — they previously met at the Stanley Cup Final. The gathering provides an opportunity for trade talk leading to this weekend’s draft in Sunrise, Florida.

“Everybody’s sort of trying to get a real good solid view of the landscape ahead of each and every one of us heading into the draft,” Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney said during a conference call last week. “I think everybody is sort of in the same boat and taking inventory.”

On Tuesday, the GMs will learn the salary cap for next season, which Commissioner Gary Bettman projected between $70 million to $71 million. Even that small a range “can make a difference” for cap-strapped teams, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall said.

No matter where the cap is set, players will be moving. The champion Chicago Blackhawks could look to shed the contracts of Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell while the Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to try to deal Phil Kessel. The Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are among the teams with goaltenders to trade.

The Blackhawks may be among the most active teams given the need to sign Brandon Saad to a new contract. They also don’t have much cap room to spare.

“I’ve been thinking of that stuff for a long time,” GM Stan Bowman said after his team won the Cup for the third time in six years. “We’ll make it work. We’ve got a plan in place.”

At the board of governors meeting Wednesday, rule changes — such as three-on-three overtime and a coach’s challenge system — need a final stamp of approval. But the big item is possible expansion.

The board in December allowed prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley to proceed with a season-ticket drive. With Foley’s Hockey Vision Las Vegas reporting over 11,500 commitments and more for suites, Bettman will take those results to the board.

“If the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process,” Bettman said in Tampa, Florida, at the start of the final. “The board may say, ‘That’s interesting, but we still don’t want to do anything.’ That’s an option.”

This week is a chance for league executives to get a feel for Las Vegas, even if temperatures soar past 100 degrees. The state-of-the-art arena, scheduled to open in spring 2016, is on the strip and is a short walk from the MGM Grand, site of Wednesday’s awards show.

This is the sixth NHL awards show in Las Vegas but the first since the city moved to the front of the expansion line. The last professional league to put a team in the city was the CFL, with the Las Vegas Posse lasting one season in 1994.

“As I talk to people they say, ‘Yeah, I love Las Vegas. I miss professional sports,’” Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce representative Cara Clarke told The Canadian Press last week. “I think this team, if we get the announcement that’s positive, I think that’s going to be so exciting for our community and probably an indication of how far we’re coming as a metropolitan area.”

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