The team in Vegas now has a name and logo. Back in the summer they set up their front office and scouting department. In less than a year, they’ll be playing real hockey games.
Was it really that long ago that Columbus went through this same process? Seeing as we will no longer be the new kid, I thought we should lend a hand to these newbies by sharing 16 years of hard-earned expertise.
TIPS FOR EXPANSION
By Columbus Blue Jackets, age 16
- Don’t hire Doug MacLean: What’s that, you didn’t? Good for you! George McPhee is an excellent hire, as he had a history of success running the Washington Capitals for 16 seasons. MacLean had never been a GM and mostly got hired based on a mixed record as head coach of the Florida Panthers.
- Do join the league alone: When Columbus participated in the 2000 expansion draft, there were 28 rosters to select players from, and Columbus split turns with the Minnesota Wild. Vegas will get to select one player each from 30 different rosters, and won’t have to share that pool with any other team.
- Do market your players: An early promotional campaign for Columbus was the “Vote for Tugnutt” campaign. Ron Tugnutt was a decent player (22 wins that first year, which tied an expansion record) and had a funny name. Combined with all the election news in fall 2000 in Ohio, it was a natural choice. Like Columbus, Vegas will have a lot of fans who are new to the sport. They will want to learn about the players as people, not just faceless pieces wearing the jersey.
Also find ways to get your players active with local charities. Fans love to meet their players in that context. Meet a sick kid at a hospital and you’ve made a fan for life.
- Don’t lose your leaders: One challenge Columbus faced in forging a team identity is that there was no consistent leadership in the locker room. Every couple seasons, the team got a new captain. Most were traded. One of them, Ray Whitney, was allowed to leave in free agency. Now, I can understand being reluctant to re-sign a 30 year old player. However, he still had 7 seasons with 50 or more points left in him. He played 10 more seasons after leaving Columbus. Whoever emerges in the Vegas locker room as a productive player and a mentor, that player needs to be kept around for several years.
- Do have good branding: I know some don’t agree with me, but I really like the new Vegas logos. The location, logos, name, and color scheme should all stand out within the league, and within all major North American professional leagues. Columbus stumbled out of the gate with defining the team’s identity. The original ribbon logo looked like 1990s Clip-Art. The Civil War origin of the “Blue Jackets” name was not emphasized, and instead people were left confused by why a giant green bee was our mascot. 2007 fixed most of this, with the flag-and-star logo becoming the primary logo and the installation of the cannon in the arena. Combined with Coach Ken Hitchcock’s love of history, the Civil War identity was finally emphasized. A few years later, the cannon logo was added as an alternate. Stinger is still around, but the team’s identity is clearer.
We’re not going to discuss Boomer.
What can Vegas do? What CAN’T they do? I say double down on medieval decor around the arena. Use horse neighing and sword clashing sound effects on the PA.
- Do build through the draft: In the early years, collect as many draft picks as possible. Invest talent and resources into the AHL franchise. Keep the team young and cheap and let that young talent grow and develop as a team. Columbus had opportunities to add talent through the draft, but unfortunately had way too many draft busts. An early success was trading up to select Rick Nash with the #1 pick in 2002. They failed to build a competitive roster around him, but he was a legitimate star in the league. If Vegas can select a player like that this summer, it will be huge.
- Do not select Matt Calvert or William Karlsson or Josh Anderson in the expansion draft: Trust me on this. Take Jack Johnson instead.