One of our goals here at SinBin.vegas is to be the voice of the valley when it comes to the NHL. In trying to do so we often have the opportunity to interact with some incredible people (and excellent writers) who are equally as passionate about hockey in Las Vegas as we are. Therefore, we wanted to give you, our readers, the opportunity to let your voice be heard via guest posts to the site.

Our next guest post comes from Vsem Yenovkian.

Las Vegas hockey fans have been eagerly waiting for that moment when the NHL finally (hopefully) makes the announcement that Las Vegas will be the 31st team to join the NHL. While that would seem like the end of a long journey that began over a year ago, in reality it will be the beginning of what will be a whirlwind first few weeks for the new franchise. Within a few weeks of the announcement the new Las Vegas team will have to name a team President and General Manager, followed by setting up the management structure including a scouting group and the coaches.

Time will be of the essence and it’s crucial for the management team to hit the ground running in building a team for not only that inaugural season but the seasons that follow. We have seen before that when expansion NHL teams are set up well from the beginning that success comes quickly. However, any rocky starts tend to linger for many many years, even to the point of no return. It says here that the path to long term success in any new hockey market depends on early success.
The question is what can the Las Vegas NHL team do to make sure the team can achieve some early success? The answer, based on the previous expansion teams, seems to be in the setup of the management team.

The last time the NHL underwent a round of expansion, 4 new teams were added to the league over the course of 3 seasons. Today we’re going to look back on who each team hired as their first GM and coach. We will also look to see what, if any, previous experience each of these men had at the position they were hired for. For this exercise we will only be looking at NHL experience only.

 NashvilleAtlantaMinnesotaColumbus
First GM:David PoileDon WaddellDoug RisebroughDoug MacLean
Previous GM Experience:Washington Capitals
1982-1997
NoneCalgary Flames
1991-1995
None
First Coach:Barry TrotzCurt FraserJacques LemaireDave King
Previous coaching experience:NoneNoneMontreal Canadiens
1983-1985
New Jersey Devils
1993-1998 (Stanley Cup winner 1995)
Calgary Flames
1992-1995

 

Going deeper into the previous 4 expansion teams we can rank how quickly each team achieved success, measured both by how quickly each team made the playoffs and continued success.

  1. Minnesota Wild: Unquestionably the most successful of the last expansion teams the Wild made the playoffs, and advanced to the Conference Finals, in their 3rd year of existence. Also made the playoffs in years 6 and 7.
  2. Nashville Predators: Long considered a successful expansion story, it actually took the Predators until their 6th season to make the playoffs. Since then they have mostly been a playoff team.
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets didn’t make the playoffs until their 8th season, when they were swept in the first round. They didn’t win a playoff game until their 13th season.
  4. Atlanta Thrashers: The worst case scenario for any expansion team. The Thrashers qualified for the playoffs once, in their 7th year, before moving to Winnipeg after their 11th season due to never capturing the attention of Atlanta fans. Till today the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise has not won a single playoff game.

Going back to our team chart we see the Atlanta Thrashers started their franchise with the least amount of previous NHL experience as both the GM and the coach had no previous experience in their roles. The Columbus Blue Jackets had an inexperienced GM and a moderately experienced coach and fizzled out those first few seasons.

It’s not until we look at the Thrashers that we see how valuable it is to have a GM in place with extensive previous experience. Although Barry Trotz was inexperienced as a head coach the Predators became a success story due to David Poile’s ability to put together a good hockey team slowly but surely.
Finally, for the best expansion success story we take a look at the Wild’s group. It’s no coincidence that the team that came into expansion with both an experienced GM and coach (Stanley Cup winner at that), was the first one to have tangible success.

The reason for this correlation is simple. Being a new NHL GM or coach already comes with a steep learning curve, as Jeff Blashill has seen in Detroit this year. When you throw in the fact that we’re dealing with an expansion team here, the learning curve becomes that much more severe. Think of it like climbing a mountain. If you’re climbing a small mountain you don’t mind being led by a relative novice, but if you’re climbing Everest you want to make sure you’re being led by the guy that’s been at the top a dozen times already.

It’s clear that based on the previous expansion setups the Las Vegas NHL team needs to ensure it has a GM and coach in place with extensive NHL experience in order to make sure the team achieves success, and captivates the Las Vegas market, as quickly as possible. Taking a chance with rookies in management can end up in a situation like the Atlanta Thrashers…but who wants to think of such a terrible prospect when this is supposed to be a happy time for Las Vegas NHL fans?

-Vsem Yenovkian

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