Everything you need to know about a new pro hockey franchise in Henderson

A season-ticket drive for the minor league franchise has more than 4,000 deposits


City of Henderson via Twitter

An artist’s rendering of the Vegas Golden Knights ice skating center planned for downtown Henderson.

Tue, Feb 11, 2020 (2 a.m.)

It won’t be long before the Golden Knights aren’t the only professional hockey team in Southern Nevada.

The Golden Knights announced last week that they had purchased an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise with the intent of moving it to the Las Vegas area. And there is already significant interest — a season-ticket drive for the minor league franchise has more than 4,000 deposits, a team official said. Deposits were just $50.

But what exactly is the American Hockey League? We explain that and more:

Catch me up. What happened?

The Golden Knights last week announced they had purchased the San Antonio Rampage, the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, with plans to relocate the team to the Las Vegas area (the team referred to it as Henderson/Las Vegas). They will begin play in the valley next season, pending approval from the AHL Board of Governors.

What is the American Hockey League?

The AHL is the top level of professional hockey in North America outside of the NHL. For nonhockey-minded fans, think of it like Triple-A in baseball. Players can be called up and down to the affiliated NHL team, and the rights of players signed to AHL contracts are owned by the NHL parent club. The Golden Knights’ current affiliate is the Chicago Wolves.

Is it a chance to see the Golden Knights’ top prospects up close?

Most players aren’t eligible to play in the AHL until after their age-20 season, and by that time many top prospects have already reached the NHL. That’s why Cody Glass mostly played last season with the Portland (Oregon) Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League instead of with the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate in Chicago. Throughout the course of the season, there will still be plenty of future Golden Knights players in the AHL. Zach Whitecloud is with the Golden Knights after starting the year with the Chicago Wolves. The Wolves’ Jimmy Schuldt and Keegan Kolesar each have NHL experience, while Lucas Elvenes and Dylan Coghlan are considered some of Vegas’ best prospects in the AHL.

Is it common to have the AHL team in the same city as the NHL team?

It’s actually less common for the affiliated teams to be separated by a great distance, like Vegas is with Chicago. Almost every NHL team’s AHL team is within a couple hours’ drive; the distance between the Golden Knights and the Wolves is the third-greatest in the league. The AHL affiliates of Montreal, San Jose, Toronto and Winnipeg are in the same metro area as the parent club, and San Jose’s two teams even share an arena.

So the Golden Knights have no affiliation with the Chicago Wolves anymore?

They will through the end of the season, then no longer. Originally the Golden Knights’ affiliation agreement with the Wolves was through 2021-22, but it will end once this season is finished.

What happens to the Chicago Wolves’ players?

Their rights are still owned by the Golden Knights. Anyone who is under contract to play with the Wolves next season will instead play for the AHL team that will be located in the Las Vegas area.

About that AHL team in Las Vegas. What do we know about it?

The team will be headquartered and practice at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, the new facility under construction in downtown Henderson. The facility was partially funded by the Golden Knights. The facility, formerly the Henderson Convention Center, will include two ice rinks, a retail store and a restaurant. It opens this summer.

What will the AHL team be called be called?

The team name has not been announced, but reportedly it will be called the Henderson Silver Knights.

Where will the team play its home games?

Also unofficial, but a report has the team playing two seasons at Orleans Arena while a new arena is constructed in Henderson, at which point it will relocate there. It is unlikely the team will play its home games at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, in part because that facility doesn’t have enough seating.

When will these issues be official?

The name, logo, home arena and other details can’t be announced until after the AHL Board of Governors approves the purchase and relocation. Expect a resolution by this summer at the latest.

This isn’t the first time Las Vegas has had minor league hockey. What’s the difference between this new team and the Thunder and Wranglers?

The Las Vegas Thunder played six seasons from 1993 to 1999 as part of the now-defunct International Hockey League. The Thunder played at Thomas & Mack Center and were affiliated at one point with the then-Phoenix Coyotes. The Las Vegas Wranglers lasted longer as part of the ECHL (the acronym does not stand for anything), which is still around as a professional league below the AHL (think of Double-A baseball). The Wranglers played at Orleans Arena from 2003 to 2014. They were affiliated with the Calgary Flames from 2003 to 2009, then switched to the Coyotes.

Can I get tickets to AHL games in Las Vegas?

The Golden Knights have a season-ticket drive going right now for the minor league team. Those interested can put down a $50 deposit (which is refundable), and season tickets will start at $10 per game. Pricing and ticket availability for single games will be announced at a later time. It's significantly cheaper than attending a NHL game at T-Mobile Arena, with tickets on the second-hand market starting at $80 (for the upper bowl) on most nights of the 41-game home slate.

How many games are in an AHL season?

It’s actually a little odd. The Eastern Conference and Central Division of the Western Conference all play 76 games, while the Pacific Division plays 68. That was changed when the league added five teams in California to lessen wear and tear on the West Coast teams in an eastern-slanted league. It is unknown if the new Las Vegas area team will play in the Pacific Division (the San Antonio Rampage played in the Central), but it would only make sense to group a Las Vegas team with the teams in California and the one in Arizona. That would require some minor alignment, but it’s not a huge roadblock. Unless the AHL changes its rules again, that would leave the Las Vegas team playing eight fewer games than most of the league, which would be 34 home games. Teams also do not play interconference games, meaning all the games would come against the other 14 teams in the Western Conference.

How much do AHL players make?

It depends on the type of contract signed. Players in the AHL are either on “one-way” or “two-way” contracts. A one-way contract means that player makes the same salary whether he is in the NHL or AHL. Most players in the NHL, including every veteran on the Golden Knights, not on entry-level contracts are on one-way deals. A two-way contract means a player makes a different salary depending on what league he is assigned. This is most common for rookies and veteran minor-leaguers. Rookies Cody Glass, Nicolas Hague and Nicolas Roy are on two-way, entry-level contracts. Patrick Brown and Brett Lernout are players who signed free-agent two-way deals this offseason and are in the AHL. By rule, the minimum salary for a one-way contract is $700,000. The minimum for the AHL portion of a two-way contract in most cases is $50,000.

Justin Emerson can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Justin on Twitter at twitter.com/@j15emerson.

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