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Editorials With Las Vegas decision, the NHL gets lost in the desert

Hockey town: Shoppers ride a gondola on a canal at the Grand Canal Shoppes inside the Venetian Macao resort and casino in Las Vegas.

Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The NHL has been diluting the culture of hockey for so long that nothing the league does comes as much of a shock or a surprise. Las Vegas is going to get a hockey team. That sounds about right. Quebec is denied. But of course.

Surely by now they should have convinced us that professional hockey was meant for the easy comforts of the American desert, not some God-forsaken place where rivers freeze and the cold chills your soul. But at least we have a soul, Canadian hockey fans will say as they mourn the passing of Gordie Howe, who honed his game and character on the frozen ponds of Saskatchewan back when hockey was inseparable from the culture in which it thrived.

The NHL doesn't care. Las Vegas is as soulless a place as you can hope to find, in hockey terms as in much else. But it has a ready-made arena and an owner prepared to cough up the $500-million expansion fee, plus a prospective fan-base of tourists desperately in need of a distraction from Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil.

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More importantly, it carries itself with a centre-of-the-universe vibe that impresses people who think a main street full of hotels, casinos, replicas of Venice and a lot of flashing lights is sports Nirvana.

Which exactly describes the NHL's key decision-makers: people determined to reposition a cold-weather game as mainstream American entertainment – and doomed to succeed as long as someone in the Sun Belt is willing to pay for a franchise. The league has essentially appropriated Voltaire's line and dismissed Quebec as a few acres of snow, while pretending to fret over the fluctuating Canadian dollar, as if true fans only show up when currencies are at par.

But of course the NHL doesn't need to care for true fans, of whom there are precious few in Vegas. It's of absolutely no concern to league officials that Las Vegas is a hockey desert – USA Hockey lists only 1,305 registered players in all of Nevada – as long as there exists a few guys in good suits who can drop $500-million without giving the sorry future of Canada's game a second thought.

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