October of 2017 your father’s NHL will be no more. The Vegas Golden Knights will begin play as the league’s 31st franchise, forever altering hockey’s landscape. Or for as long as they’re in Nevada anyway.
So what can we expect when the Knights take the ice next October? Will Vegas fans be able to trek to The Strip for the first game in franchise history or will early road matchups delay the party at T-Mobile Arena? If history is any indicator, Vegas hockey may get started earlier than later.
Six expansion franchises have begun play since Gary Bettman was named commissioner of the NHL in 1993. Four of those were approved during his tenure, and three of those four opened play at home.
The tentative start date for the 2017-18 season is October 4th, although the indecision regarding the NHL accommodating players participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics creates some uncertainty. Additionally, the commissioner will likely attend the first game of this season’s Stanley Cup champion, while also wanting to be present for the first game in Knights history. It’s a safe bet that fans are disinterested in Bettman’s attendance, though it may be a safer bet that the schedule will be manipulated to accommodate his agenda. Here’s a look at how the six expansion teams that have started play in the Bettman era got started:
Florida Panthers – October 6th, 1993
Bettman was the commissioner when the 1993-94 NHL season got underway, but the expansion of franchises to Florida and Anaheim were facilitated under the leadership of the league’s final president, Gil Stein. NHL play opened October 5th with four games before the Panthers played their inaugural contest on the road the next day, a 4-4 decision against the Detroit Red Wings. Florida went 1-1-1 to open the season before playing the first home game in franchise history, a 2-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 12th.
Anaheim Ducks – October 8th, 1993
Then named the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Orange County hockey fans would not have to wait as long to see its new club, though the results weren’t nearly as pleasant. The Ducks were fortunate enough to play at home for the first game in franchise history and received a rude welcome to the NHL. Detroit smashed Anaheim 7-2, with Keith Primeau finding the back of the net twice, and Ray Sheppard racking up three assists. The first five games in Anaheim franchise history were played at home before the Ducks hit the road with a 1-2-2 record.
Nashville Predators – October 10th, 1998
The 1998-99 season opened on October 9th in Toyko, Japan with the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames playing to a 3-3 tie. A day later the Nashville Predators hosted Florida at the then named Nashville Arena. Nashville lost that game 1-0. Three days later the Predators logged the first win in club history, 3-2 over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Atlanta Thrashers – October 2nd, 1999
A pair of games kicked off the 1999-2000 NHL season on October 2nd before 23 other teams opened their seasons the following day. Thrashers fans were treated to a three-game home stand to begin play. The first game in franchise history was a 4-1 home loss against the New Jersey Devils. Five days later Atlanta played at home again, this time suffering a 7-1 loss against Detroit. On October 9th the Thrashers logged the first points in team history, tying the Buffalo Sabres at 5.
Minnesota Wild – October 6th, 2000
The return of the NHL product to Minnesota after the departure of the North Stars in 1993 was a big deal, but Wild fans would have to wait to see their new team on its home ice. Minnesota was sent out west to open the season, coming up on the short end of a 3-1 decision against the Ducks. The next day the Wild fell to 0-2 after a 4-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. On October 11th, Minnesota played the first home game in team history, a 3-3 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers. Then it was another road matchup, this time at St. Louis. Welcome to the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets – October 7th, 2000
Like the Wild, Columbus started the season by losing its first two games, but did it in front of its home fans. The first was exciting, the Blue Jackets built a 3-0 first period lead before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3. The second was not, Los Angeles left Columbus with a 7-1 victory. The first win in Blue Jackets history would come on October 12th at Calgary but Columbus would not collect its first home win until October 27th, 3-1 against the Washington Capitals.
Vegas Must Start Its Season at Home
Now for my completely biased take. The Vegas Golden Knight absolutely, positively must start the 2017-18 at home. I am of the opinion that hockey in Las Vegas will be a gigantic success, but like many have said, it’s a gamble. There are so many unproven elements at play, chiefly the absence of a professional franchise (sorry Las Vegas 51s), that make it difficult to gauge the likelihood of the NHL’s success in Nevada. With that said, the first game home game in Vegas franchise history should not feature a Golden Knights team that is 0-2, 0-3, or 0-4. While the environment at T-Mobile Arena next October will be nothing short of electric when the Knights take the ice for the first team, the event will suffer, even if just minutely, should Vegas already be on a losing streak.
That’s not to say that expectations should be unrealistic for any Vegas fan. The team will struggle as every expansion team has in the past. This is more about starting the product off on the right foot. Day one, Las Vegas, with a big hockey brand. That’s where things need to start. After that, you can send them on a five-game road trip that starts in Edmonton. Let us just get our first taste of hockey in the desert.