Foley Sets The Bar For Future Expansion Owners

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.

 

Quebec City Back In The NHL? Follow The Path Of Foley, Thomson, And Chipman

So Quebec City is still stuck at the ownership factor after more than a year. Off and on for this past time, I have been writing about the Quebec situation and its absurdity. How Las Vegas that hardly knows hockey and has never had a major league team in any sport and has a smaller arena can get an NHL franchise easily while fanatical hockey bed Quebec City is still on the outside looking in.

Is the problem the “anti-Canadian” NHL led by insensitive American majority Board members fronted by an American “anti-Canadian Commissioner? Is it the greedy owners of the 7 Canadian franchises who don’t want to share the Canadian market and Canadian television money with Quebec City and can’t be reigned in? Is it NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “traditional” policy of awarding expansion and relocation teams to strange “non-hockey” American markets in order to impress American television networks to get a better contract while ignoring fanatical markets in Canada and the northwestern United States?

The answer is “no”, especially in the case of Quebec City. Bettman himself is not anti-Canadian though most Canadians like to cling to it for comfort as a Canadian myth. In 2010 he made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises, laid out terms for readmission, and invited them back if they met those conditions. And when he went to Edmonton to see its new arena for the first time, he was so impressed he wants to give the city an All Star Game and an NHL Draft session. That’s hardly the decisions of an anti-Canadian.

And the NHL loves the new Videotron that Quebec City built. Upon its opening, they awarded Quebec an exhibition game of the World Cup. Montreal, owned by the supposedly “anti-Quebec” Geoff Molson wants to keep playing preseason exhibition games there until Quebec City gets the Nordiques back. It’s obvious that the NHL loves Quebec City, its market and arena. They WANT the Nordiques to return. But they will not tolerate an owner like Pierre Karl Peladeau.

Videotron

Just to recount, Peladeau lost a bidding war to Geoff Molson to own the Montreal Canadiens and then publicly declared that Molson was unsuitable to own the Canadiens because he was an Anglophone Quebecer. Then he obstructed the business dealings of a colleague of Molson’s in some matter. He dabbles in pro-separatist provincial politics. Finally, he is simply untrustworthy; he is absurd. How can he think to get on a Board Of Governors when he publicly insults one of its members with a racist remark, a remark that probably not only offended Molson but many other Board members? Even a separatist cannot trust him because he invested in Canada by buying the Sun Media chain. The NHL wants somebody reliable, somebody they can believe in as an owner, so they are going to stay away from Peladeau.

MolPel

No, if you want an expansion/relocation NHL team, you follow the path of Bill Foley, Dave Thomson, and Mark Chipman who are the latest members of the NHL Board. The NHL is prepared to forgive and overlook a lot of sins if you have a good owner. Just for the record, Foley is the owner of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Thomson and Chipman were the owners who acquired the Atlanta Thrashers and brought Winnipeg back into the NHL. With good owners, Gary Bettman and the NHL Board were even prepared to ignore the small size of the Winnipeg arena.

Ownership is a critical factor along with an arena and fan base. When Thomson and Chipman were lobbying to get Winnipeg its Jets back, they were often seen in the company of Bettman and members of the NHL Board. It helps to be the richest man in Canada like Thomson and be wealthy like Chipman, but both of them went out of their way to make themselves popular with the NHL Board. It was obvious that when Atlanta got into trouble, the Board and Bettman kept Chipman and Thomson in the back of their minds and that made it easy to transfer the team to them and return to Winnipeg after no investor appeared to keep the team in Atlanta. And Chipman is so popular, he (along with Molson) has been elected to the NHL Executive Committee.

Foley is also a popular choice. There were (and still are) doubts about whether Las Vegas has a suitable fan base, but nobody has doubted Bill Foley’s enthusiasm for the NHL. The NHL has been a flop in Phoenix but they are willing to take a chance on another desert team because of Foley. If he makes Vegas a success, look for him to be elected to the Executive Committee at a later date.

In contrast, Peladeau alienated the NHL Board. When the Videotron was being built, Bettman was often seen in the company of the provincial premier, the Montreal mayor, and other important local officials, but not Peladeau. And when any spokesman from the company was called to comment on how things were going, it was former Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney. For any new franchise, the NHL Board wants an owner whom they can work with, and trust and believe in.

For now, Quebec City rests in “deferred” suspension, until a suitable owner is found. It’s sad that the best city in North America without an NHL team, a city with a market the NHL believes in, with a new arena that the league (including Geoff Molson) loves, one that had the best rivalry in the NHL with Montreal, has to wait because no acceptable owner has appeared.