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Screen Shots: NHL in Vegas a major gamble

Adam Proteau
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The Hockey News
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Screen Shots: NHL in Vegas a major gamble

Adam Proteau
By:

You hear reports that ridiculously successful TV/movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer isn't far away from becoming an NHL owner and you think Gary Bettman's luck is taking a turn for the better.

Then you hear Bruckheimer is interested in owning a team in Las Vegas – and an expansion team at that – and you think, yeah, that's more along the lines of Bettman's good fortune.

“One step forward, and two steps off a cliff,” has been one of the gentler appraisals of Bettman's 14-year tenure as NHL commissioner – and it certainly holds true when you consider the pros and cons of (a) having Bruckheimer involved with the league; (b) expansion itself; and, (c) placing the first big-time sports franchise in a town like Vegas.

When it comes to getting Bruckheimer into the fold, there are no cons.

The Hollywood mogul all but owns pop culture these days and his virtual stranglehold on the entertainment business could only help a league that wouldn't know how to properly promote Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston throwing down in bikinis and a pudding pit. The board of governors must do everything within its power to get some of Bruckheimer's action -- and not just because I believe Gone In 60 Seconds needs to be remade as a tribute to Neil Smith's time as New York Islanders GM.

Conversely, when it comes to expansion, there are no pros. I mean, can't you just hear the calls of “stop the presses” in newsrooms around the continent once the Vegas Totally Legal Wagerers proudly select, er, Todd White with the 1st overall pick in the expansion draft?

I'm sure George Clooney will be shooing away the silicone starlets to get himself a front-row look at that team.

The talent dilution that would follow expansion is absolutely unnecessary, especially considering the sorry state of a few active franchises. But the shame of league-wide crappier teams pales in comparison to the shame that would follow the NHL's failure in the desert.

Yeah, I've heard all the statistics – that Las Vegas is one of the fastest-growing communities in all of America, that it's a town starved for a major-league sports operation, that Celine Dion's husband alone could reinvigorate gambling interest in the NHL.

Certainly, there are some positive aspects worthy of the NHL's consideration.

But listen, I've been to Vegas. With a bunch of advertisers'-dream-aged guys who love hockey.

And even if there was an NHL Stanley Cup final game the weekend of our visit, and the tickets were compliments of our hotel, and there was a very good chance we'd all be asked to play in the game at some point, there's still not a hope in Hades our butts would've occupied those seats.

We were visiting to drink well beyond the point of moderation, test our luck with high-stakes women games of chance, and, umÂ…see what happened after that.

So there's little-to-no chance the NHL could corral the average Vegas tourist's disposable income. That leaves the locals. And does anyone really think that, in a city where there is more competition for one's entertainment budget than practically anywhere else on the planet, the locals are going to opt for blocked slapshots and scrums along the boards?

Is the NHL arrogant enough to believe that – in the midst of exotic animal exhibitions, sins of the flesh and oxygen-fueled gambling – the Average Joe is going to shell out to watch the likes of Lou Lamoriello's Trap-tacular Extravaganza?

Isn't the idea of the defense-first NHL in Vegas very much like dropping Chastity the Abstinence Clown into the middle of Amsterdam's red-light district and expecting bonzo box office to follow?

Nobody doubts the first few years of the operation would garner the NHL some of the best publicity it has ever had.

But once the newness of the game inevitably wore off – the way it has in Miami, Nashville, Washington and Long Island, among other places – a half-empty building surrounded by nothing but money-making attractions would make the NHL a laughingstock in a way that NBC and its horseracing fetish couldn't ever come close to.

If that were to occur, Bettman and Bruckheimer would be losers on one of the biggest stages there is. And you know what Hunter S. Thompson said about a loser in Vegas.

Okay, maybe you don't. In his famous Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas novel, Thompson wrote, “For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.”

The NHL doesn't need any more kicks to its collective junk than it's already received. But if it were proven Carrot Top and Wayne Newton can turn a profit in Las Vegas yet hockey can't, the utter degradation of the sport would be complete.

Does that sound like a gamble Bettman and his bosses should be willing to take?

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at aproteau@thehockeynews.com or through our Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau's Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.

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Screen Shots: NHL in Vegas a major gamble