Hallmark Sports Event Gets Supersized

NHL’s annual postseason party includes draft expansion

by Patrick Everson

For the past eight years, Las Vegas has been home to the NHL Awards Show. Now, Las Vegas also has a new NHL team. So it only makes sense that the league’s annual postseason party converges with the sparkling new T-Mobile Arena — the building that will house the Vegas Golden Knights beginning this fall.

Arguably, the biggest event on the Vegas sports calendar in June will be the NHL Awards Show, set for June 21. And for fans of the Golden Knights, the first major professional franchise to call Las Vegas home, it will be a doubly good evening because the show also will include the expansion draft. So all those on hand not only will see the best and brightest of the NHL honored for their efforts in the 2016-17 season but also will see the revealing of the 2017-18 Vegas lineup.

“It’s a really unique event and the first of its kind. Traditionally, it’s been in a small theater,” said Nehme Abouzeid, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Golden Knights. Abouzeid was alluding to much of the awards show’s history at smaller venues in Vegas, with a three-year run at the Palms Casino Resort Spa, three years at Wynn Las Vegas and this past year at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

In 2015, the event was at the MGM Grand Garden, but T-Mobile is a much bigger stage on which to showcase the awards and unveil the draft picks that will fill out Vegas’ inaugural roster.

“We knew we had to do the expansion draft, and the NHL had to do the awards show. So we decided to combine them,” Abouzeid said.

“We’ve had such a strong demand for season tickets. When we unveiled the name and logo in November, there were 5,000 people at Toshiba Plaza (outside the arena); and at the T-Mobile open house in February, we had 9,000 people come through the doors, which was amazing.

“We know whatever event we have, we’re going to get strong support from our fans. So we decided to supersize it, if you will. You get the two-hour awards show that features, inside the show, our expansion draft. It also dovetails nicely with the 100-year anniversary of the NHL.”

Indeed, the league announced its top 100 players of all time in a January ceremony, with some of them — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier — expected to be on hand for the awards show and expansion draft. It’s definitely going to take the Vegas experience for this event to another level.

“The pairing of the NHL Awards and Las Vegas gives the show a vibe and an energy that only the city can provide,” said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s executive vice president in charge of programming and creative development.

“The players love coming to Las Vegas after the season and enjoy all the city has to offer. It’s been beneficial to attract celebrities and a unique creative event that has been the hallmark of the show.”

And, with that hallmark now moving to a new, huge venue, Mayer is excited about that prospect as well.

“Naturally, when moving the show from a theater to an arena, everything gets supersized,” he said. “There will be a bigger stage, more dynamic screens, more in-arena elements — all with the goal of making this our biggest show we’ve ever done in Las Vegas.

“With the addition of the new team, and this year’s expansion draft, we are excited about presenting the NHL Awards in a different, memorable way.”

The Golden Knights will contribute not just through the roster reveal in the expansion draft, but also through the unveiling of the team jersey, which Abouzeid said fans can preorder. And, after the show, the team will hold a pep rally for which they plan to fly in some of it’s new players and hold a Q&A onstage with them. Team owner Bill Foley, general manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant will, of course, be on hand. All of this represents a big first for Las Vegas, something Abouzeid recognizes, having lived and worked here the past 14 years. Before taking the Golden Knights post in November, he was employed with Las Vegas Sands and then Wynn Las Vegas.

“It’s like Vegas 3.0,” Abouzeid said. “From the mob era to the corporate era, now 3.0 is about quality of life, nongaming amenities and attractions. Sports are going to be a galvanizing force for Las Vegas and also a tremendous option for tourists. For 41 nights a year, we’ll have hockey entertainment, the drama of sports, where the outcome is not predetermined. It’s pretty amazing.”

The NHL obviously recognized the importance of making its newest team a focal point of the show, but Mayer noted the reasoning extends far beyond Las Vegas.

“It was important to the NHL to be able to make this year’s expansion draft into a program that not only would be watched by Vegas Golden Knights fans, but by NHL fans all over the world,” he said.

“The show will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network and on Sportsnet in hockey-mad Canada, beginning at 5 p.m.

“The combination of the two distinct events gives the NHL the ability to showcase our newest team and our greatest players all under one roof and at the same time.”

The evening’s, festivities are open to the fans.

“For a fan, this is the culmination of all the work we’ve put in since June 2016,” Abouzeid said. “It’s just gonna be an exciting fan experience.”