On September 27, 1991, the city of Las Vegas hosted an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. It was an exciting event for locals and hockey fans alike, bringing the two together at Caesar’s Palace. While the result was a boring 5-2 blowout in favor of the Kings, it laid the groundwork for the NHL to establish hockey roots in Vegas.
Fast forward to 2017-2018, where the Vegas Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Along came NHL Awards Night, moving the ceremony from Toronto to Sin City. Of course, the host of games 3 and 4 now stakes that claim. But hockey has become a massive hit in Las Vegas from the miracle run.
So why not capitalize on that excitement and bring an outdoor game to Vegas? The city has a good standing with Gary Bettman, especially since it has a relatively newish feel. The excitement of Knights hockey is still in the air, with new faces like Bruce Cassidy and Phil Kessel in town.
Granted, there are some obstacles to overcome. For example, the Lake Tahoe game between the Colorado Avalanche and Golden Knights was delayed due to ice problems, specifically in the corners. The game was delayed until the later hours, which will be heavily considered for any future outdoor games in Las Vegas.
Let’s go over which locations are good fits (and which aren’t) and which teams are the best fit for the Winter Classic/Stadium Series.
- Life Is Beautiful Location: Honestly, I feel like this location could work since the location had over 180,000 festival attendees in 2021. The location is set near Fremont in an empty garage lot, which would allow for around 25,000-30,o00 attendees. While that’s a smaller number when you compare it to the other outdoor games, it’s still a sizable spectacle that’ll bring in revenue for Sin City. Plus, Las Vegas isn’t overwhelmingly hot in January, with average highs running to around 59 degrees Fahrenheit (average lows of 28 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Lake Tahoe: While the Lake Tahoe series was a bit of a disaster regarding ice conditions and the sun, it can be run back with the proper adjustments. A later start time, better preparation, and more marketing will make the second go-round much better than the first. You also can’t deny that Lake Tahoe itself would be a magnificent backdrop for hockey fans. Seeing the mountainous beauty along with the pristine lake gives fans exactly what they’d want from an outdoor game.
- Caesar’s Palace: Why not bring it back to where it all started for Vegas hockey and the NHL’s association with the city? It would be a nostalgia boom for hockey fans and Sin City residents alike. Plus, it’s smack dab on the Strip, making this a tourist attraction for people around the world.
- Allegiant Stadium: The Raiders home has the capacity to host a game with around 65,000 attendees, which makes it attractive. Plus, there have been outdoor events held in NFL stadiums, such as Ralph Wilson Stadium and Heinz Field. The one major drawback? It’s a domed stadium, which would take away from the feel of playing outdoor hockey. Such an aesthetic is vital for hosting the Winter Classic or Stadium Series game.
- Las Vegas Ballpark: This is the dark horse pick to host a Vegas Winter Classic/Stadium Series event. While the venue is extremely small (8,196 capacity), there have been talks about the possibility of expanding the stadium. That’s especially true if the Oakland Athletics come to town, which is looking more like a possibility every day. Plus, the ballpark is extremely nice, with a sleek design and modern feel in downtown Summerlin. Either this, or they go with the new stadium for the Athletics if they come to town. Of course, there are a ton of variables involved, including capacity and whether the stadium’s domed or not. Stay tuned…
- San Jose Sharks: There’s probably no other team on this list that fits the bill for a potential outdoor opponent for Vegas than the Sharks. They faced off twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with each team taking a series. There has also been some bad blood brewing between the two squads, with both fans and players chirping at one another during those series.
- Los Angeles Kings: Another formidable opponent for the Golden Knights would be the Kings. They play in arguably the biggest market in sports and would bring eyeballs and hype to the game. The Los Angeles/Las Vegas connection has always been strong, with the likes of the Raiders and new residents strengthening the bond. Expect L.A. to make a good foe for Vegas in the Winter Classic or a Stadium Series game.
- Colorado Avalanche: Right now, the Avs are one of the top teams in the NHL. That alone would make for an exciting game between the two squads. The two teams also faced off in the Lake Tahoe game a year earlier, with Colorado gaining the upper hand in a 3-2 victory. Also, Nathan MacKinnon has established himself as a superstar in the league and would bring star power to the game.
- Seattle Kraken: A battle of the newest expansion teams in the great outdoors! Who would be the better-run organization for the rookie franchises? Such compelling story lines would make for an interesting outdoor matchup. The Kraken would come out in the old Metropolitan uniforms of the 1910s, back when they won the first Stanley Cup for any United States-based team. While it’s not going to draw eyeballs due to the market sizes, it’ll be a nice game for hockey fans to watch.
- Chicago Blackhawks: This is solely because the Blackhawks used to be featured in every outdoor matchup for the NHL. It was always Gary Bettman’s answer for who needed an opponent for their Winter Classic or Stadium Series game. No outdoor game would be complete without the likes of Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews in it, which is why it would make sense to see the Blackhawks play against Vegas here.