Whether the new expansion franchise Las Vegas Golden Knights win any more games this year or not, owner Bill Foley has set the bar for future owners of NHL expansion franchises to reach. Las Vegas would not be on my top ten list for NHL expansion franchises. Nor would it make my next group of cities that were not the best choices for an NHL franchise but were worth taking a chance on. In fact I would be inclined to rank Las Vegas as a poor choice for an NHL team, on the level with Phoenix.
But Foley has shown beyond doubt that good ownership can make up for a doubtful market. He was doing the right things long before Las Vegas was officially granted an NHL franchise. The NHL had long been eying Las Vegas as a potential franchise, the first professional league to try an untested market, but without Foley, it is doubtful that the league would have placed a team there during the last expansion. First he was taking surveys to see if there was enough interest to consider if an NHL team was feasible. When he was convinced that there was enough potential to take the matter further, he convinced the doubtful NHL to believe his sincerity by taking formal pledges for tickets from fans prepared to put their money where their mouths were to show the league that there was money already on the table. He along with Quebec were the only cities to accept the NHL’s $500 million expansion fee without a quibble.
But his competence did not stop there. He wanted to build a winning team and so far the Golden Knights have far exceeded anybody’s imagination. First he hired a competent general manager, George McPhee, who shared Foley’s vision that under the NHL expansion draft terms that had been set up, a winning team or at least a better than average starting expansion team could be built. The NHL had set better-than-usual expansion terms, but you have to have competent ownership and management to know what you are doing. Vegas not only has a winning record but there is a good chance that they could make the playoffs, something unprecedented in every expansion since 1970.
Foley and McPhee next hired a competent coach, Gerard Gallant, who was unaccountably fired by the Florida Panthers last season despite having a winning record at the time. Gallant immediately became a leading candidate for a coaching position this year and Las Vegas was happy to give him a chance. The success of the Golden Knights on the ice in no small way is due to Gallant’s coaching.
Success on the ice has led to success at the gate. The Golden Knights are enjoying sold-out standing room only crowds. Where once one doubted if the new arena would be filled, now one wonders whether it was built with enough seating capacity. Whether this is because the Knights are an entertainment novelty this season remains to be seen, but everybody loves a winner or at least a team that is playing to its total capabilities and it is hoped the Knights have made a deep and lasting impact among the Las Vegas sports fans. Bill Foley worked hard to make that happen and his pattern should be followed by future NHL expansion team owners (likely Houston next).
The expansion team that took the shortest time to become a true Stanley Cup contender was the New York Islanders, in only their third season, after setting a then record for a bad first season by an expansion team. Thanks to the more generous expansion terms and competent ownership and management, the Golden Knights are already closer to that status. If they make the playoffs and do well, it will be icing on the cake for Bill Foley.