The tweets began almost immediately: Words of welcome from the New York Islanders. The announcement of new a division rival from the Edmonton Oilers. A Hangover gif from the New Jersey Devils. Emojis, video clips and friendly jabs. A social media storm was brewing in the desert, because on June 22 the NHL officially awarded Las Vegas an expansion hockey team.
The Las Vegas team, which will begin play at the new T-Mobile Arena during the 2017-18 season, will join the Western Conference's Pacific Division, which already includes the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, among others. It will be the league's 31st team and the first expansion since 1997, when four teams were added over three seasons.
"This expansion comes at a time when our game is more competitive than ever, ownership is stronger than ever, the player base is more talented than ever and the business and the future opportunities for the business are greater than ever," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday.
Quebec City, which also applied for an expansion franchise, was deferred.
Billionaire Bill Foley, who will pay $500 million for the as-yet-unnamed franchise, began his quest to bring the NHL to Las Vegas in 2014, when he partnered with the Maloof family to work on securing a pro hockey team in town. After a successful ticket drive in spring 2015 that saw deposits put down on more than 14,000 seats, Foley and his partners were invited to submit a formal application and present their bid to the NHL Board of Governors Executive Committee. They did so in September, and then waited and waited.
"I thought we'd have the team in no time," Foley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in February. "It just shows you how naive I was."
However, after "months of extensive study, discussion and deliberation," as Bettman explained, Foley's patience was rewarded. The vote to approve the Las Vegas bid was unanimous.
"A long time in the making, this announcement is not only a breakthrough moment for the league, but also for the city of Las Vegas, as this will be the city's first major league sports team in history," Foley said following the announcement in a letter to the city. "I would also like to thank the season-ticket holders and our fan base. Your enthusiasm and excitement helped us exceed our goals and played an important part in the league's final decision."
Season tickets for the team have already sold out at center ice and the upper ends, and some other sections are currently wait list only.
As for what name the fans in the arena will be shouting when the Las Vegas squad takes the ice in 15 months, that remains a mystery. On the team's current website, vegasishockey.com, Foley announced a celebration of the expansion to be held sometime in the fall, when temperatures have dropped below the 110-degree mark.
He hopes to present the team's name, colors and uniforms at the event. "I'm going to be open-minded about the name and the team colors, but I am the majority owner," Foley told NHL.com.
Already, the Las Vegas community has begun submitting their own ideas via social media: the Las Vegas Mob, Scorpions, Hitmen, Aces, Rat Pack and Black Jacks. Foley had previously floated the Black Knights, a nod to his alma mater West Point, but one social media user suggested a more Vegas-ized compromise: The Las Vegas Neon Knights.
For more information about the Vegas NHL expansion or to put a deposit down on season tickets, click here.