Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Tournaments U.S. Poker Markets

Poker Star Daniel Negreanu: Vegas Golden Knights Have 'Opportunity To Be A Dynasty'

Poker's All Time Money Leader Discusses The Incredible Success of Las Vegas' First Major League Sports Team

Print-icon
 

The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights have had a record-breaking inaugural season. They set the new high in games won for an expansion team, blowing away the previous mark of 33 to end up with 51 victories, winning their division and earning them a berth in the playoffs. The Golden Knights’ kickoff their first-ever postseason run against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, April 11. Poker’s all-time money leader Daniel Negreanu is one of the Knight’s most prominent supporters and will definitely be in attendance, cheering on the first ever Las Vegas-based major sports team as they make their maiden run at the Stanley Cup.

Card Player recently caught up with the six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and two-time Player of the Year award winner to discuss his involvement with helping bringing the team to Southern Nevada, his thoughts on the future of the team and whether or not he might have to skip some big huge poker tournaments in order to catch some key games during the team’s first postseason run.

Card Player: So first off, can you tell me a little more about how you got involved with the team as one of the “Founding 75” who were responsible for drumming up grassroots support for the Golden Knights before the expansion was even made official?

Daniel Negreanu: So I heard rumblings and rumors through social media starting a few years ago and then did an interview with ESPN and they reached out to me for my thoughts on whether or not it would work in Vegas and Bill Foley, the owner, he saw the interview and reached out to me via email and asked if I would help him to ticket drive and to be a part of what was then called the “Founding Fifty.“ We were tasked with selling seats to a team that we didn’t even have confirmed yet. So he reached out to me and then we met at the Palms and even went over to his house a few times. But yeah, I was a part of that group that helped make it work.

CP: So when you first heard from Mr. Foley, what did you think the odds were of the expansion actually going through? Obviously, there are lots of larger cities around the country hoping to attract a national sports team. Because Vegas is such a unique market, did you think that it was really going to get to this point?

Negreanu before the Golden Knights home openerDN: You know, I did. What I’ll say is that I didn’t think that it would happen so quickly and I certainly didn’t think the team would get this big as quickly as it has. At the outset I felt like in Las Vegas hockey being first to market was super important. I would be a little more worried if we already had the NBA and NFL and then tried to add a hockey team, but being the first to market much like happened in San Jose was key. You know, you go to San Jose and that’s Shark’s town. I felt like what gave us an advantage is that Vegas is such a sports town. We have the added bonus of not only will we fill seats with the 2.2 million people that live here, but also we have an advantage when it comes to road games for other teams. People have a choice of where they want to go on destination games and they’re not going to Columbus, they’re not going to Minnesota – they’re coming to Vegas.

CP: So what were your expectations after the expansion draft happened? The consensus that I heard from sports pundits seemed to be that the draft went pretty well but from more of a team-building and having assets to deal standpoint and not necessarily in terms of winning games this year. What were your actual expectations in terms of how the team could play after the draft?

DN: So I was very happy with the draft. I thought they did a great job of getting three first round picks and hitting on all of them, as well as a second-round pick that is going to end up being much like first pick quality. The expansion draft is what people mostly focus on; just what is the team going to look like today. Obviously, we were lucky enough that there wasn’t another expansion team picking as well, so we got the pick of the litter. And having a goalie like Marc-André Fleury was going to, at least the way I saw it, steal us some games. He could stand on his head and win a few games. I thought overall by looking at the lineup that we’d have trouble scoring and that defense would have to be relied upon more heavily. Guys like Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt and, of course, Shea Theodore, but as it turns out we had some breakout years from specific players. I think what we did a good job of was identifying talent that was untapped and being under-utilized by other teams, which gave these players an opportunity. If you look at William Karlsson specifically, he had six goals last year. Six. He’s got 42 already this year. That’s unprecedented, that just does not happen in hockey. No one could have seen this team being as successful as it was because frankly, we didn’t even draft the best team available. We picked up assets like Marc Methot, we shipped them off. We really weren’t looking to win, but someone forgot to tell the guys and someone forgot to tell Gerard Gallant that this was a rebuilding year and instead he turned the team into a Pacific Division Champion.

CP: So, yeah, they won the division and they demolished the record for wins in the first year as an expansion team. As a result, they have locked up the playoff spot. Given all that they have achieved so far, what are your expectations moving forward? I mean, what do you think they can do in the postseason? [Note: the Knight’s first-round playoff matchup with the Kings had not yet been finalized when this interview took place.]

Negreanu trying on goalie pads out on the iceDN: As far as the post-season, I think they do match up very well against specific teams. I think there’s obviously some first round match-ups that are more favorable than others, but I do think that we’re in the right spot and that our style of play, if people want to play that way against us, it really works well. And if they do want to play a little more difficult game, we do have ammunition there as well. Going forward, I think that Las Vegas – obviously the bar is set high after the first season going the way that it did, but I do think the future is bright. I think this has the opportunity to be a dynasty that doesn’t ever really have to falter, because first and foremost Las Vegas is a very attractive market to a young free agent. Not only based on the fact that it is a great city for young people, but also due to the tax situation. Players won’t have to pay any state tax. So essentially, if you have a choice between getting $4 million a year to play in Winnipeg or $3.1 in Vegas, it’s a lot easier to think Vegas makes sense. In addition to all that we’ve created a winning culture. This team wins. From day one we’re doing things correctly, the fan base is here. I feel like we’ll be able to get lucrative free agents. We do already have a farm system that is about average as far as NHL rankings go. So, I think it’s a very lucrative market for free agents to want to come to and for those that are already with us, re-signing seems like a no-brainer.

CP: So the Golden Knights were the first major sports franchise to come to Las Vegas, and they’ve come out and won a lot of games and have exciting to watch. This has helped in getting the community behind them, but the team has taken a lot of steps beyond just winning to show support for the community. Very early in the season there was the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, which the team has done a lot to respond to. People have had very positive reactions to how the team has done a lot to try and help the community heal after something so horrible. Can you talk a little bit about how the team is fitting in and how the team has helped bring people together and perhaps change how they view their city?

DN: Yeah, there’s no question. When something so tragic takes place, it is horrible. But one thing that has happened after the tragedy was that it brought the players closer to their new home city and they bonded over that. NHL fans’ second-favorite team has quickly become Vegas because it has been very easy to root for this story. The job they’ve done with the community — you look at the City National Arena, where they have their practices, they’re open practices. You just don’t see the stands full of people for practices typically for NHL teams. Every practice, there’s a bunch of people there. They’re doing a lot within the community, interacting with the fans, getting some face time. The way the team handled it from day one, has been great. They’ve had ceremonies at the games, and the announcer is like, “Introducing Dr. Michael Lee, and oh yeah he is accompanied by that guy Marc-André Fleury.” They’ve tried to really keep the focus on the heroes. Each and every home game, someone from that tragedy, whether they were a victim or whether they were there to help others, is honored during the game. It’s a remembrance of those people. They have also retired the number 58, which is the number of lives that were lost. That’s going up to the rafters. Really, they’ve tried hard to do everything right in the community and have helped to bring it together.

CP: Before the Golden Knights came to Las Vegas, some people wondered if the town could support a major sports team. Is Vegas a good sports town? Another worry the major leagues had about Vegas was that they were hesitant to deal with some of the perceptions of the city and the fact that there is legal sports betting here. What do you think about the NHL really being the first to brush those concerns aside?

DN: Well, I don’t think anyone really needed proof that Vegas is a sports town because every time the Super Bowl is happening or March Madness, where do people go? They come to Las Vegas, because it’s a sports town. Now, as far as the whole gambling thing goes, I think that’s so out dated and so silly. I mean, if you’re a Canadian market you can go to the grocery store and bet on over-unders. They have Pro-Line, there. Gambling on sports is not something that is unique to Las Vegas. So the idea that there is the 1960-70s mob-related possibility of fixing games is absurd. Games are all on television now. It would be very easy to spot any sort of fixing or anything like that. So, I think that with Vegas and how well it worked the first season opens the door for other leagues to jump in. And as we see the Raiders are coming and I don’t think its too far away to consider an NBA team here as well.

CP: So in other interviews regarding the team you have mentioned that you are part of a dynasty fantasy hockey league that you’ve participated in for two decades. Are any of the players from Golden Knights on your team?

DN: Well, actually my team is in a full rebuild mode, which is a lot of fun. The player I have on the Golden Knights, and I’m actually probably one of the few people that have bought his jersey is Tomas Nosek, who plays in the fourth line and has all season. He certainly doesn’t put up a lot of points, but he’s a hard worker and he really represents the story for a lot of these guys on the team. It’s just all about hard work and everyone jumping into their role and doing it from a humble place.

CP: So, now that they’re in the playoffs — if they make a deep run there’s a lot of big poker tournaments going on in the interim, and the Golden Knights’ run could overlap with huge events like the European Poker Tour Grand Final and possibly, if things go very well, the early parts of the World Series of Poker. Can you talk a little bit about being so involved with this team and being such a big fan—how that’s affected your schedule of events over the next few months?

DN: So this is the first year, and this is epic, this is historic and something that’s never happened in any sport and this is something that I’m certainly not going to miss for a poker tournament. So, I’m not going to Monte Carlo this year so I’ll be there for the first couple of playoff games. If we are to make it all the way to the end of May, the only one where we could have some issues is the Super High Roller Bowl because I’m committed to that already and that would be kind of brutal, but I’ll worry about those problems when they arise. Again, I’ve watched every single game so far this year. So, if I’m not there physically I will be watching it.Spade Suit

Photos: Negreanu’s Instagram account @dnegspoker