Word travels quickly around the NHL, and the city of Las Vegas has built quite a reputation in its short time as a hockey market.
One of the biggest hurdles as an expansion franchise is creating a positive culture around the team that can both draw free agents from the outside and entice current players to stay.
The Golden Knights appear to have already made large strides in building their desired culture.
At the start of their first real offseason, the Golden Knights brought back Ryan Reaves, despite him having offers to leave, and signed highly coveted center Paul Stastny. They also re-signed Colin Miller on Saturday.
Reaves signed a two-year deal worth $5.55 million to remain a Golden Knight after spending the last four months in Las Vegas following a mid-season trade from Pittsburgh.
“That was the first time I’ve ever hit free agency,” Reaves said. “Obviously, I wanted to see what was out there. I had a couple of teams in a few days. I had some good offers on the table but I think, at the end of the day, I told management in Vegas during my year-end meeting that I wanted to be back.”
Reaves said he had three-year deals on the table but chose the two-year contract in Vegas. One reason was that the players feel a possible lockout is looming in 2020-21, so taking more money over two years could be financially beneficial to Reaves.
But that wasn’t his sole reason.
“I like the culture of the team, I like where the team was headed—a young team that makes it to the Stanley Cup Final, that really excited me,” Reaves said. “I liked how the locker room was. I like my relationship with Turk and with management in just a short period of time. I made it clear to them that if there was an option to come back that that would be my first priority is coming back to Vegas.”
Those kind words coming from a veteran player recently acquired from the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins speak highly of the organization.
Brand new facilities help. The Golden Knights practice at the $30 million City National Arena and play in the state-of-the-art T-Mobile Arena that sports some of the most expansive locker rooms in the league.
Fan support has enhanced the atmosphere at both buildings, selling out all 51 games at T-Mobile Arena and regularly packing City National Arena with capacity crowds during weekday practices.
Thousands filled the Fremont Street Experience for a team rally in January, and hundreds lined streets near the practice facility to see the players off as they went on the road during the playoffs. Golden Knights’ players have sung the praises of the fans at every chance, and players around the NHL have taken notice.
The city of Las Vegas has plenty of perks that will attract free agents on its own. The weather is fantastic, and the lack of a state income tax means players take home much more of their earnings.
To put it into perspective, a player making $5 million per season has a take-home income of $3,063,830 in Las Vegas, but only $2,357,467 in Canadian cities like Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Over the course of a 5-year contract, that adds up $3,531,815 extra for playing in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights aren’t the only team in a state tax-free market — the Predators, Panthers, Lightning and Stars enjoy the same benefits. But Las Vegas has already built a reputation as a great place to live.
“I did ask around from a few guys that have played (in Las Vegas) or guys that know guys that play there,” Stastny said. “I also know a few people that live in the area for seven or eight years even before the team got there and have always said good things about Vegas. Sometimes from an outside perspective all you think about is the Strip, but the way of living is an easy settle and how good the community is there. I haven’t heard one thing negative and that’s before the hockey team got there and just talking with the hockey guys I have only heard positive things. When you hear that, that just makes it easier to make a decision like this.”
Most important of all to free agents, the Golden Knights have won and appeared to be poised for long-term success. Fresh off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas has $18.75 million in projected cap space in the upcoming season and $37 million the following season.
The Golden Knights also have four promising prospects in the pipeline with first-rounders Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom, and second-rounder Nicolas Hague, to go with 11 picks in the first three round of the next two drafts.
“Right now, we’re sitting here with a pretty good team and we haven’t used any of our draft picks this summer,” general manager George McPhee said. “We have them all. We’ve been talking trade with some teams, but that requires young players and picks but we haven’t moved any of them. We’ve added three players though free agency but we still have all of our picks and all of our young prospects. I’d like to think we’re in a pretty good place.”