The First Real Test Of Hockey Acceptance In Las Vegas Is Now Underway

Photo: Chase Stevens Las Vegas Review-Journal

As a lifelong fan of the Washington Capitals, I’ve been personally angered by the way new expansion teams have been added to the league in recent years. Gone are the days of lying your dues and earning your stripes, as expansion teams are given every opportunity to contend for the Stanley Cup right out of the chute, thanks in large part to a gratuitous expansion draft.

We can debate if that’s the best way to integrate a new franchise, by making them a winning team right away. It’s probably a matter of personal perspective and best business practices. Regardless, new teams can still fumble the opportunity away. (see Seattle Kraken).

The Vegas Knights were eliminated from the postseason for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday night. And while that’s the reality that all NHL teams must face at some point, missing the playoffs has been just the latest blow to hockey fans in the Silver State.

Ken Campbell recently penned a worthy piece on the decay of hockey in Sin City. The first noticeable mis-step was the way they dealt fan-favorite Marc-Andre Fleury, allowing him to initially find out he was on the blocks via social media. The team also recently botched a trade of Evgenii Dadonov by trying to trade him to a team on his no-trade list. And this week the Knights found themselves in a dispute with goalie Robin Lehner over his season-ending surgery.

Once media darlings and the feel-good story of the league, the Vegas Golden Knights have hit their first serious rough patch in the road. As a result, (I contend) this will be the first real test of how well hockey has been truly accepted in Sin City, as the initial buzz and luster have now dimmed.

It’s easy to support a winner, but there are a lot of entertainment options in Vegas and competition for entertainment dollars is stiff along the strip. Will fans support a .500 team or go see The Blue Man Group? The test is underway.

Again, this is coming from a (likely jaded) fan that had to deal with decades of losing prior to the first real taste of anything that resembled success. Honestly, I was equal parts jealous and pissed seeing the Knights make the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural campaign. That just isn’t right. Luckily the vitriol quickly subsided on June 7, 2018.

As a fan of the NHL, first and foremost, I wish no permanent harm for hockey in Sin City. I want all teams to succeed in their current markets, including Las Vegas. But as a fan growing up watching the Capitals lose, learning to deal with losses and still love the team and the game, I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain a little contentment from finally seeing the Knights struggle. Enduring the tough times is a requirement for any sports fan. Just ask a Capitals fan.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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10 Responses to The First Real Test Of Hockey Acceptance In Las Vegas Is Now Underway

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    Watching a struggling team will definitely be hard for Vegas fans. But, about this season, I felt like they didn’t do right by Marc-Andre Fleury at all. They handled notifying him of their trade intentions in a classless manner.

    The team fell prey to chasing the “newest toy”, as in acquiring the most glamourous player in the market, by signing Pietrangelo last season (and trading away Nate Schmidt). And trading for Jack Eichel this season. (All those moves were out of character for George McPhee, their former GM who moved “upstairs”. My guess is the new GM is the one making those moves.)

    All this being said, I don’t dislike Vegas as a team and like some of their players. There are other teams I like less in the Western Conference, including the two teams that beat out Vegas (Los Angeles and Dallas). Didn’t like Los Angeles since their glory days. As for Dallas, they’re often “dirty” and there’s something about teams in Dallas with a star in their logo.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I dont think hockey will really ever struggle in Vegas. The locals arent going to go see the blue man group 41 times a year. They are hungry for non-vegas strip things to do. That combined with the number of other teams fans that will plan Vegas trips around their local squads road swing to sin city.

  3. As a die hard, long time Caps fan transplanted, and living in Las Vegas, I could not agree more.
    I have seen all season long a gradual but steady decline in the level of excitement the Knights generated in past seasons.
    This is compounded, in my opinion, by the ridiculous ticket prices at T Mobile. This does little to bring local fans to games. As for me, I was excited initially at the prospect of being able to catch a handful of good match ups during a season. That has transitioned into going to one game a season, when the Caps visit. I think this is just another example of how Knights management is bungling the hockey experience in Las Vegas.

  4. Marky says:

    It will be another interesting offseason for the Golden Knights. I, like most, was glad they got knocked down a peg here and it is because of their brash management style in these last two years. I think if they can settle down their goaltending, (are you listening BMac?) that they should be fine next year and might get back to the playoffs because they still have a good core of players.

  5. Mike Snell says:

    Like others, I was hoping that Vegas would miss the playoffs this year. While I agree that the old way of adding expansion teams wasn’t fair, having a team make it to the playoffs consecutive years right from the start seems a bit unfair as well. Then again, Seattle found a way to not be successful.

  6. Rick and DelaVega says:

    I would agree Vegas has many entertainment options but you are misguided comparing the Knights or the Raiders to the Blue Man Group or Pen and Teller or anything similar.

    Local Vegas residents could careless about most entertainment or even any gambling on the strip. In fact most Vegas residents wont go near the strip. Its too crowded too expensive and they get better odds off the strip at their local casino.

    The city has been begging for professional sports for decades but most leagues stayed away due to the unacceptable gambling aspect. But now that its legal in most states professional sports have embraced Vegas and the windfall is for the city and fans of Vegas sports.

    The Knights will continue to get the support of the fanbase and will still be the most popular entertainment at the end of the strip. No amount of controversy will deter their fanbase.

    Did you see a drop in support or attendance during the Gruden/Raiders controversy?…NOPE!…In fact I would say support grew for Rich Bisaccia!

  7. Carl P says:

    I’m with you on how overly generous the expansion draft rules are now compared to the 1970s, when teams were forced to rely on the draft and castoffs to build their roster. In fairness, that didn’t seem to hurt the Islanders, who became competitive within a few short years. The Caps were both inept and unlucky back then.

    The loyalty of Vegas’ hometown fans isn’t as critical as in most cities, as they rely on opposing teams fans to attend as part of vacations including hitting the casinos and shows. The Knights and Raiders will do just fine.

  8. Dave says:

    Thank you for saying what many of us have been thinking!

  9. erik says:

    The article is amazing, I found it informative for the readers. I hope to find more like this in the future.

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