Las Vegas, the evolution of on-ice fighting and the future of the NHL's soon-to-be imbalanced conferences were the talk of Philadelphia on Thursday, when Bill Daly, the league's deputy commissioner and chief legal officer, fielded questions at a sports business conference.
Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald had the scoop, relaying top Q-and-A points from Daly's remarks, which the deputy commish gave as the keynote speaker for an event hosted by a partnering law firm and business school.
What can we take away from Daly's comments, though? Here are three big points:
1. Las Vegas always had the edge over
Quebec City (and probably should have)
Daly: "I think Las Vegas, it's a unique market. That's what makes it a unique franchise. And we felt what was important in Las Vegas was to make a showing, or demonstrate, that they would have strong local support from the local residents."
A unique market? Sure. Obviously only time will tell whether that "strong local support" actually gives the Golden Knights reason to keep getting armored up. But how can you fault the NHL, a league in an ever-constant battle for attention, for trying to bank off one of the nation's most populated -- and attraction-heavy -- cities?
At the risk of coming off a little simplistic, Quebec City just sounds more NHL-ish, and not only because its expansion bid would have revived a fan-favorite team if it came to fruition. But Vegas is Vegas. For better or worse, it could wind up being something like the NFL's Los Angeles. And somehow, it was probably the right destination for Daly and a crew that needs to spread hockey fandom in a place that will draw the spotlight.
2. More talent has led to less emphasis
on fighting ... but what do fans really want?
Daly: "(In) any event, I think certainly [that] the role of fighting has greatly diminished, and thus trending in the right direction ... And the fact of the matter is, all of our clubs employ very, very talented players. So they don't really have room on their rosters for players who are single-dimensional in terms of fighting."
He might have struck public-relations gold with that final talking point about talent trumping violence. And Daly does make a good point, which mirrors the league's stance on fighting for the sake of ... well, fighting. But the real question here -- the real takeaway to be pondered -- is whether fans really want a dissolution of "single-dimensional" fighters?
Let's not pretend any fan committed to watching a winning team is going to opt for more fights over a superior roster. But isn't fighting one of the things that makes hockey unique? That certainly does not mean the violence incited on NHL ice is good for anyone. But if we're talking about selling tickets and building audiences (see: Las Vegas), somebody had better poll the masses on the merit of these highlight-reel brawls.
3. Perfecting the conferences will have to wait
Daly: "That imbalance probably is a bigger problem for us than having 31 teams versus 30 teams. We have gradually taken a step toward at least improving that imbalance by having 15 teams in the West [with Las Vegas] and 16 teams in the East. But quite frankly, I think one of the factors why we didn't grant Quebec City an expansion franchise was that geographic imbalance."
In other words, patience is required. And understandably so. The Vegas expansion team obviously isn't going to even things out, if you care about that sort of thing, and only some more serious franchise developments will have this Eastern and Western mismatch solved. So we had all better get used to a little organized chaos in this regard.