NHL chooses Las Vegas for draft, will plan 'dramatic' event

SEATTLE -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that the 2024 NHL draft will be held in Las Vegas and the league is finalizing plans to hold the event at the Sphere with the intent that it could also be the last centralized draft for the foreseeable future.

Bettman said having it at the Sphere, which has more than 18,000 seats, would make the NHL the first league to hold a sporting event at the facility. The auditorium, which has a wraparound LED interior and curved LED exterior, was featured along the race course of the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November.

Since the NHL draft started being held at NHL arenas in 1986, it will be just the third time the draft has been held at a non-NHL venue. The first occurrence was in 2005 -- the first draft after the lockout when it was held at the Westin Hotel Ottawa. It also happened in 2020 and 2021 when the draft was held at the NHL Network studios in New Jersey because of the pandemic.

"I think it'll be a pretty well-viewed event both in terms of the draft itself and the use of the Sphere inside and outside using the globe," Bettman said. "We think it'll be fun. We think it'll be dramatic and compelling."

Bettman said going to a decentralized draft allows organizations the opportunity to work from their team facility rather than traveling. It's what teams did during the pandemic-affected drafts and it's also the same format the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball use for drafts.

Bettman said he liked the old format and felt "it had a charm to it," before adding that the clubs felt it was time for a change.

"Families are going to be there, prospects are going to be there, we're all going to be there," Bettman said. "But this gives the teams who thought it was important with more and more people with computers and data involved with the draft and doing that type of work on the floor, they were all more comfortable in their home environments."

Bettman also addressed the discussions the league has had with the NHL Players' Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regarding the Olympics, while also detailing the NHL's plans for a proposed in-season tournament that would begin in 2025.

Bettman said there is no timeline for a decision about if the NHL would send its players to the Olympics -- set to be held February 2026 in Milan and Cortina d'Amprezzo, Italy. Bettman said the NHL is trying to finalize plans on its end while saying there are factors out of their control.

Bettman said the Olympics are "important to the players" and that the NHL wants to make it happen by being "as flexible as we can" with the caveat that the league must finalize a schedule at some point for the 2025-26 season.

"It's up to the International Olympic Committee and IIHF to put things in place that need to be there," Bettman said. "And not insignificantly, they have a lot of work to do on the arena. I don't think they've actually begun construction on it, which is a matter of some concern."

Bettman said there are other details that would need to be sorted out, such as insurance and travel, as well as accommodations for players and their families. But the arena construction project remains his largest concern.

"Normally, when you build a building for The Olympics for a hockey tournament, it's done a year in advance," Bettman said. "You have time to have events, test it, build the ice, and do that. They're projecting it won't be done until the fourth quarter of '25, which is six or eight weeks before The Olympics if they are on time and I think they are already late. But that's nothing we can control. That's an IOC and a Milano/Cortina organizing issue."

As for the in-season international tournament, Bettman said the list of participating nations has not been finalized. It's been previously reported that the tournament field would feature the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland.

The NHL and the NHLPA have been working to facilitate a World Cup of Hockey tournament since it was brought back in 2016 as a preseason event held in Toronto. Bettman said having the in-season international tournament would then allow the NHL to move forward with reintroducing the World Cup of Hockey.

Bettman also said the venue for the in-season international tournament is yet to be determined and there could be multiple sites.

"The ultimate goal is to have Olympics two years later, World Cup two years later, Olympics two years later, World Cup two years later and that's the cycle we're trying to get on," Bettman said. "But we figured we'd try a little bit of an appetizer between now and then."