The Vegas Golden Knights begin play next season, and are already ramping up to their exclusive UFA window and the expansion draft.
To help them ease into the league, I’ve created some do’s and don’ts for the newest member of the cool kids club.
DO: Leave your rafters empty so the players know they have something to strive for
Championship banners are an awesome thing to walk into an arena and see. The proud accomplishment of your team there in all its glory. When the rafters are empty, fans and players hope that one day they’ll get to see that empty spot filled.
DON’T: Hang a banner every time someone sneezes
You can overdo it though. So you were the 2nd wild card in the 2019 playoffs. Does that really need a banner? Oh you won your division? Does that need one? Wow Brett Hull once sneezed here? Now it’s getting unnecessary. What significance does a championship banner have if you’ll hang one for every little accomplishment?
In my mind banners are for honoured members of the team and championships only.
DO: Honour your best players by retiring their number
This is similar to what we covered above. It won’t apply for a while, but, one day we’ll see the name Reid Duke hanging from the T-Mobile Center. Retiring numbers is a hot debate, but every team likes to acknowledge those players who accomplished special things with them.
DON’T: Pull some expansion gimmick by retiring #1 ‘for the fans’
It’s hokey and it’s an easy way to suck up to the fans. You don’t need that. You’re not desperate.
DO: Make sure you have lots of draft picks
Drafting is super important for any pro team. At this early stage you need to make sure you have plenty of picks at the ready to bring in some high quality prospects, and also to use for leverage in trades.
DON’T: Use the ‘draft schmaft’ philosophy
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a real problem with drafting before the cap. They had some picks, but usually they would trade them away for veterans to fill out the roster. It may be tempting, but don’t spend the picks to win right away. Teams like the Penguins, Blackhawks, Sharks and the new Maple Leafs all built from within. Patience and quality. That will make you win.
DO: Welcome away fans who are visiting your rink
It’s always important to make your visitors feel welcome. After all, they’re spending the same money as the home fans. Gentle teasing and mascot shenanigans are fun (but make sure you set it up beforehand if you’re going to dump pop corn on them), like the Bruins Bear welcome ads:
DON’T: Beat them up
However, the flip side is being unnecessarily mean to your fans, such as uncoordinated mascot attacks. The worst thing you can do to an away fan is have bad ushers and lax security. Fans of either side being assholes ruins the game for everyone, so you need to sweep them out of the rink fast and have ushers who will react.
And Vegas fans, no need to go full Bruins or Flyers fan on anyone.
DO: Get a good DJ to keep the crowd hyped and energized during time outs.
Fans have gotten used to hearing some of the top new artists like, you know, ones I can’t name because I’m old and lame. Keep a good rotation going and don’t just pop in ‘Jock Jams Volume 2’ and let it play.
DON’T: Play 90’s Swedish techno country remixes
DO: Make the playoffs
Try to do this the first couple years, so your fans know you’re serious about competing. The playoffs are a fun time that gets everyone a little more excited than the slog through March and April at the end of the year if you’re already eliminated
DON’T: Miss them
Solid advice here.
DO: Your best, you’re an expansion team
Playoffs are good, but don’t try to do too much too fast. Keep the message to your fans realistic, don’t promise a cup in 10 years. You could win three (Blackhawks), or you could win none (Capitals).
DON’T: Set records for worst season ever by an expansion team
DO: Join in the free agency frenzy
This is where you can shine. Try and woo some of the top name free agents to help make your first season great. Can you sign Joe Thornton? Maybe Kevin Shattenkirk? It’s July 1st! Anything is possible!
DON’T: Rush to sign someone because they had a career season
Always remember David Clarkson.
DO: Create a large front office with many people who have different mindsets
There’s no right way to build a team, and your front office should reflect these mindsets. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs: You have the young, nerdy boy wonder in Kyle Dubas, the man who helped build the CBA in Brandon Pridham, old school Mark Hunter, and Brendan Shanahan who started a revolution in the NHL head office before he scared them and they sent him to Toronto.
DON’T: Ignore some of those hires
If you’re going to make a huge, franchise altering trade, and someone objects, don’t fire them. Listen, and disagree, but don’t dump dissenting views.
Report: Canadiens let analytics consultant go after advising team to keep P.K. Subban | Hockey Inside/Out
“Ultimately, this is the nature of this kind of work. Management makes their decision based on a variety of criteria. Their evaluation may have been different in this case, but there was consensus on other decisions through my time with the team.”
DO: Embrace your market, even if it gets a little out of the ordinary
Las Vegas is a little wacky, so play that up. Have fun with your city’s reputation. You can’t have to go full ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers, but make sure to have fun and make games a party atmosphere.
DON’T: Take shit from snooty Canadian columnists
We’ll see the first hit piece on Vegas from the Toronto or Edmonton Sun papers after the first puck drop, as they ignore the challenge of building up a reputation and dedicated fan base. Just flip them off and keep doing your thing.
DO: Acknowledge you city’s hockey history
As mentioned above, the Wranglers gave Vegas the reputation for a fun hockey atmosphere and embrace that part of it. Let people know about the Thunder and that you had Curtis Joseph, Alexei Yashin, and Brent Gretzky play in town. You have a history, share it, embrace it!
DON’T: Steal it
Don’t be the Jets* or Senators. Acknowledge there was hockey before you, but don’t claim it as your own history. You made a good choice in not copying the name to confuse people. Don’t hang any banners that aren’t yours. Don’t claim players that aren’t yours. Your franchise history starts now, not 10, 20, or 80 years before you showed up.
DO: Use your unique opportunities with expansion draft to make your team better
You can make a trade ahead of time and nab a prospect or pick from a team to not pick certain players. Do everything you can and get as much out of teams as you threaten to take the players that they want to keep. You have all the power here. Use it.
DON’T: Take on long term deals that other team want to dump
The Kings may try to get you to take Dustin Brown. Don’t do it. DO not be the NHL’s garbage dump. Unless the price is high enough...
DO: Use offer sheets against teams up against the cap
This is a neat trick that’s not exploited much, but it could get you a top end player from a team in a bind.
DON’T: Do it or you’ll have your franchise taken away
I’m kidding these aren’t allowed to be used, lol.
DO: Make your jersey unique and say something about your team and your location
We haven’t seen your jersey yet, but don’t make it boring. You’re in Vegas, make it fun and exciting, make it flashy and bold.
DON’T: Change it every season or two.
DO: Engage with your new fans, make them feel like they’re a part of the team
DON’T: Engage them by beating them with a shoe
Mike Milbury is Donny Don’t in real life.
DO: Encourage locals to try out and work on ice crews and game ops
Getting people in to work with the team, as low paid game ops bees, interns, or volunteers (do not ask for volunteers), helps build hardcore fans because they’ve been behind the scenes. Scraping the ice and handing out giveaways is simple, but it builds a bond.
DON’T: Forget their pants
Just make sure they’re dressed appropriately. It’s cold in arenas!
DO: Use your status as the newest NHL team to try out new things
Talk to fans and find out what they want on your broadcasts, take all the advice and build something no one else has. This is your chance to innovate in an industry that hasn’t changed since Ralph Mellanby overhauled Hockey Night in Canada in the 60’s.
DON’T: Fill your broadcasts and front office with retreads
NBC has Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick. Rogers has Doug MacLean, who tried to kill the Blue Jackets, and Jim Hughson who sits around and complains about the game all the time. Find some new people who’ve never hosted a game before at the NHL level. Find someone who is as excited as the Hockey Night in Punjabi guys. Analysts don’t have to be limited to ex-NHLers. People know the game well who have never, or were never allowed, to play in the big league.
DO: Get used to demands of your relocation
You’re a new team who won’t sell out every game. You’re in the desert. Quebec City has an arena and no team. You’ll hear the word relocation used a lot. Just tune it out.
DON’T: Let Jim Balsillie anywhere near the arena
Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Arizona can agree to this.
It’s going to be a great first year Knights. Follow these rules and you’ll be just fine.