Money talks in professional sports, and none more so than the NHL. Bill Foley’s agreement to pay what seemed an outrageous fee of $500 million to put an expansion team in Las Vegas for 2017-18 came with the understanding it would have access to a much higher level of initial talent than such franchises in the past.
Teams were allowed to protect 10 skaters (maximum) and one goalie, putting the team Foley named the Vegas Golden Knights in position to both claim solid players and make favorable trades.
One of those maneuvers concluded with forwards Erik Haula and Alex Tuch moving from the Wild to Vegas. And we’ll see you later, Chuck Fletcher.
The Knights won the Pacific Division with 109 points, swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games and opened the second round of the playoffs with a 7-0 victory over San Jose.
We did not have such good fortune in the first year with expansion teams in Minnesota, when the initial investments were modest and so was the access to talent. Cases in point:
• A Twin Cities group reneged on a deal to be an original member of the eight-team AFL and paid $1 million to join the NFL as the 14th franchise for 1961. The Vikings won their first game 37-13 over the Chicago Bears, lost the next seven and finished 3-11.
• The North Stars owners paid $2 million to be part of the six-team West, the NHL’s expansion division, for 1967-68. Playing 50 of 74 games against the other expansion teams, they went 27-32-15 and lost a seven-game series to St. Louis in the West Division finals.
• Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner paid $32.5 million to bring back the NBA to Minnesota for 1989-90. The league had added four teams in short order, the pickings were slim and Bill Musselman’s Timberwolves went 22-60 while drawing huge crowds to the Metrodome.
• Bob Naegele and his group paid $80 million to join Columbus as the 29th and 30th NHL teams for 2000-01. Naegele was blessed with genius marketing people and Jacques Lemaire as coach. The Wild was 14th out of 15 in the West in Season 1, but by Season 3, it was in the Western Conference finals — thanks to Inspector Lemaire.
PATRICK'S PLUS THREE
In other expansion goodies:
• The Lynx were a WNBA expansion team in 1999. They won one playoff game in 12 summers. And then they drafted Maya Moore in 2011.
• Seattle has agreed to pay $650 million for a future NHL expansion team, presumably meaning Vegas-like access to talent.
• Deep down, NBA officials have to be dying, watching the NHL beat it to vibrant markets such as Las Vegas and Seattle.