Earlier this month NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reminisced about the early stages of Golden Knights history. Bettman discussed the infancy of the franchise, how the inaugural 2017-18 season proved the sporting world wrong, and the emotions the players carried with them all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
Bill Foley has done an amazing job. It starts with the fact that he was in love with the game of hockey, and he believed hockey would work in Las Vegas. Most people at the time thought we were crazy. We had done our homework. Finally, there was a state of the art arena that was built with MGM. We believed based on everything we knew and learned about the market… including a season ticket drive that we let him do, that this market would support a team. -Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner
None of what Commissioner Bettman said is new to this fanbase, but two and half years later he still finds himself explaining why Vegas was successful from the get-go. Maybe it gets annoying but Bettman has no problem reminding sports fans that the Golden Knights paved the way for the Raiders relocation.
Now everybody thinks, ‘oh sure, we’re going to come Vegas too,’ well that’s not what people were saying initially.-Bettman
What mostly confuses fans of other sports is how the Golden Knights became so good so fast. Also, fans are curious how Vegas has maintained their achievements. Bettman went on to explain the progressive expansion rules that set up for a competitive team immediately. After two playoff bound seasons, it would be tough to envision a bad Golden Knights hockey team. Thankfully, this market didn’t have to suffer from the outdated expansion rules Atlanta, Minnesota, Nashville and Ottawa struggled under. Bettman learned from those teams early troubles and didn’t want Vegas limping from the start.
In every sport when an expansion team comes in, historically the leagues give a weak team to the expansion team. Make them suffer for a few years. What typically happens is the team comes in, there’s the initial enthusiasm in the marketplace, the team continues to underperform, there’s a dissipation of the initial enthusiasm, and about ten years after the team starts they get competitive and then they rebuild. We didn’t want that model. Since we have a model where every team can be competitive, why were we going to bring in a team initially that couldn’t be competitive? Therefore, we had the deepest expansion rules that I think any league has ever had. -Bettman
With the latest report about an AHL team sharing the market with the Golden Knights, Bettman has got to be smiling proudly. The NHL listened to a billionaire hockey fan, scouted the market, and took a chance on a city known for its gambling. Proving to the sporting world that hockey can survive in a non-traditional, non-pro sports town.
The players believed all season, that first season, that they were playing for a higher callling. That was healing Las Vegas. The impact of that motivation showed itself in how the team performed. It’s an amazing, amazing story that may never be duplicated. Although, I know Seattle is going to try. -Bettman
They can try all they want Gary.