Thursday, June 18, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
More on the NHL Awards
Even though Las Vegas is not an NHL town, it appears that there's a running joke circulating among the league's players regarding America's playground as a potential home for a franchise.
"It's obviously a very alive city and everybody enjoys coming here," Calgary winger Jarome Iginla said. "There's been a lot of talk about it, and usually among the players it's pretty popular. Then there's always the joke -- I'm sure you've heard it a hundred times -- is that the home team would sure have a nice advantage, which would probably bear some truth.
"It's not just a joke. It might be difficult to be as focused, but it'd be fun. There's a lot to do here, great restaurants, and I'd be all for it."
The 30-year-old Iginla, who has scored 851 points in a stellar 12-year career to this point with the Flames, has a good deal of perspective at this point in his pro hockey career.
However, players both older and younger agree that a Las Vegas team would have a distinct home ice advantage.
"Obviously being in Vegas, you can be here for a weekend, I don't know about longer than a weekend," joked 24-year-old Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler. "Their home record would be amazing. 41-0.
Going even younger, 20-year-old Chicago Blackhawks standout Patrick Kane has already seen the effect that a brief trip can have on NHL players.
This season, following a West coast road swing, Kane and his squad, which ultimately advanced to the Western Conference finals, spent a couple of days in Vegas to kick off a five-day hiatus before a homestand.
They stayed at the Bellagio, held a private practice at the Orleans Arena and, well, cut loose a bit.
"It was a lot of fun," Kane said. "I think there were a couple of learned lessons for some players throughout the trip, but that's all I'll say about that. It's Vegas, that's gonna happen."
Kane, who will be presenting the Calder Memorial Trophy at tonight's NHL postseason awards ceremony at the Palms to the league's top rookie, attended the presenters' reception in one of the hotel's swank suites Wednesday with his cousin.
Before coming to Vegas, he said the two went to see "The Hangover" in preparation. The wild comedy depicts, essentially, all that can go wrong in one night in Las Vegas. Even though part of it was far-fetched, nothing is impossible.
"I didn't know (Mike Tyson) had a house here, that's pretty cool," he said with a grin. "Yeah, we're gonna go steal his tiger a little later."
But in all seriousness, the players agree on one thing -- they think NHL hockey in Vegas can work.
"I think it'd do pretty good in Vegas," Kane continued. "From what I hear, I think they'd get a lot of fans, a lot of sponsors, and maybe it'd be a good place for the NHL, but you're probably asking the wrong guy when you ask me. Players would love to see a team in Vegas, but who knows about everyone else."
One of the bigger supporters in the 'everyone else' crowd for the NHL in Vegas was also on-hand Wednesday -- Palms President George Maloof.
Maloof disagreed that players misbehaving would be an issue should the league find a home in town.
"I think people get focused, and if you're competitive and want to win, it doesn't matter," he said. "I think that's overrated."
Instead, Maloof said he thinks the NHL could give Las Vegas -- go figure -- something it's missing.
"I think that it's a city that needs to have something more," he added. "We've always wanted something more, so I think it'd be great to have a franchise here. I think the community would really embrace it. I really believe that."
If the NHL came to Las Vegas, however, it would be building a fan base from the ground up. Not being a traditional stick-and-puck hotbed, it's not an area where kids are particularly raised as hockey fans and taught at an early age to support the game.
Kane can attest to the importance of grabbing hockey fans young, having grown up in Buffalo, N.Y.
"For me, growing up, I loved the Sabres -- I was a Sabres fan until I got drafted by the Blackhawks, that's how it worked for me," he said. "I love the Sabres. I went to maybe 25 home games a year. For young kids in Vegas, if they can go watch a team in Vegas, I'm sure they'll start loving hockey. It's like that in Chicago now, too. The team wasn't popular for years, and now the kids are starting to come back. Those are the fans you love -- the little kids who really look up to you. That's who you really want to impress and you really want to be a role model for them.
"If they could do that in Vegas, it'd be an amazing accomplishment. To say that they wouldn't get fans, I'd be lying to you. I think they'd sell out. Any kind of sports team here, I think it would excel for sure, but you always kinda wonder why there isn't really one here."
Sun reporter Ryan Greene can be reached at (702) 948-7844 or at [email protected].