On Tuesday, something a little puzzling happened: the NHL's commissioner visited a season ticket drive for a franchise that does not exist--not yet, anyway--while insisting that he's not necessarily supporting Bill Foley and the Maloof family's Las Vegas expansion plans. ESPN's Scott Burnside noted the strangeness of the situation:
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended a news conference at the MGM Grand Casino to kick off the drive, insisted that the NHL hasn't made any commitment to anyone regarding becoming the first major professional sports league to venture into the gambling and tourist mecca.
"We're not in the expansion process and I need to keep making that clear,'' Bettman said.
Still, the optics of Bettman's presence for many observers were more powerful than words and seemed to indicate the NHL was in fact ready to make the expansion plunge provided the ticket drive is as successful, as a number of sources expect it to be.
Even before potential owners Bill Foley and the Las Vegas-based Maloof family started taking deposits on season tickets from interested fans on Tuesday afternoon, sources told ESPN.com that more than 9,000 individuals had reached out to organizers to express interest in paying to watch NHL hockey in Las Vegas.
Continued, and this is the important part:
Bettman told ESPN.com that Foley and his group have committed a lot of time and money (close to $2 million, a source told ESPN.com) and that Foley had invited him to attend the media event to see the level of enthusiasm and support for hockey in the city.
"I figured why not go out and see what he's got?" Bettman said shortly before boarding a flight back to New York.
"The event was well done," he added. "There was a big turnout and a high level of enthusiasm."
Edit: The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Alan Snel also provides the Nevadan perspective: