In a major development, the Vegas Golden Knights have reached an agreement to purchase the San Antonio Rampage AHL franchise membership and will apply to move the team to the Las Vegas area. The purchase and move is pending approval of the AHL Board of Governors.
It was confirmed by AHL officials late last month that the Golden Knights were interested in purchasing and relocating an existing team in the league, with plans to move it somewhere in the Las Vegas region. However, firm details did not emerge until Thursday, when it was announced that the NHL franchise had reached an agreement with Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E) to purchase the Rampage franchise membership. Should the deal receive final approvals, it would facilitate a move of the Rampage to the Las Vegas area following the 2019-20 season.
“We are extremely grateful to our staff, our fans and our partners who have supported the Rampage for the last 18 years,” SS&E CEO RC Buford said in a press statement. “While this was a difficult decision to make, we believe this move is best for the long-term success of Spurs Sports & Entertainment.”
“It’s been a goal of the Vegas Golden Knights to have our AHL team located in our market since our team’s inception,” Vegas Golden Knights President of Hockey Operations George McPhee said in a team-issued press statement. “We are now closer to realizing this goal than we have ever been before. Last season, more than 87% of all NHL players were graduates of the AHL. Local fans will be able to track Golden Knights prospects as they progress through our system, advance to the AHL and look to reach their potential as NHL players. This move will effectively centralize our hockey operations and streamline our processes in terms of player development, scouting, transfers and staffing.”
In their announcement of the pending transaction, the Golden Knights stated that the team would relocate to Henderson/Las Vegas and begin play there in the 2020-21 season if the deal is approved. For now, there are still many specifics that have not been settled, including the exact arena that the team would play in and its branding. The Golden Knights said this information would be revealed at a future date following approval of the purchase and relocation from the AHL Board of Governors. Should the transaction move forward, the team would use the currently under-construction Lifeguard Arena in suburban Henderson as its practice facility and headquarters.
“By bringing an AHL franchise to the desert, our fans will have more opportunities to experience the sport they love in the place we call home,” Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said in a press statement. “With our new community ice center under construction at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, the club will have a world class practice facility as their team headquarters. We would like to especially thank our colleagues at Spurs Sports & Entertainment and the American Hockey League Board of Governors for their consideration and effort in continuing this process.”
The pending transaction would not only have an implication on the AHL’s geographical alignment, but also its affiliation slate. The Golden Knights are currently in an agreement with the Chicago Wolves, while the Rampage are the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Both of those arrangements would end after this season if the Golden Knights’ plan to purchase, relocate, and affiliate with the current Rampage is finalized.
“We are aware of the news regarding Vegas purchasing the San Antonio organization,” Blues president of hockey operations and general manager Doug Armstrong said in a press statement. “The Blues will finish the remainder of the 2019-20 season with San Antonio as our AHL affiliate. In the meantime, our pursuit of a new minor league affiliate will begin immediately. We will have no further comment on this topic at this time.”
Meanwhile, Wolves owner Don Levin is confident that the team can secure a new NHL affiliation if its arrangement with the Golden Knights does end, per the Daily Herald:
Now the Wolves must find another NHL franchise to partner with. They could go back to the St. Louis Blues, whose AHL affiliate is San Antonio, but Levin said he has no interest in rekindling that relationship….
“We’ve been approached by other teams in the past: ‘If this ever happens, consider us,’ ” Levin said.
“We are a good location because we’re close to a lot of places. You do have to go by plane, but there’s a lot of flights out of O’Hare.
“We want to find the best possible fit. For us it’s about having some veterans and being able to win some games.”
The Golden Knights and their home venue–T-Mobile Arena–have played a formidable role in helping to grow hockey in the Las Vegas area. If this plan does move forward, it would enable the organization to have its AHL affiliate play at a separate venue in the market, potentially allowing it to expand on what it has accomplished since its NHL expansion bid was approved in 2016. It also follows a trend that has unfolded over several years in which several Western-based NHL teams have purchased AHL affiliates, and moved them to venues closer to the NHL club’s home.
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