NHL makes a statement at The Sphere in Vegas!

Marc Elliott

KNIFE RIVER –  Unless you have been out of public circulation the past few months, you are likely aware of the brand new event venue in Las Vegas known as “The Sphere.” Before its grand opening, the new facility promised to “blow the public away” with graphic capabilities unlike any before it. 

In watching Round One of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft last night, I am compelled to say that’s a vast understatement. The color graphics, in fact, may have been the star of the show. I’ve seen several groundbreaking innovations in my lifetime, but this basically left me speechless last night. Incredible can’t begin to cover it. 

One of the wildest things about the technological innovations involved here is the ability for the site to show the same graphics on the exterior of the building as are being displayed on the inside. And I’m not talking about some outdated Jumbotron mounted on the outer shell of this building, (and it really is sphere-shaped) I’m talking about the ability to cover the entire exterior of the building to exhibit the same graphic that is being shown inside. 

And for the NHL to be the first major pro sports league to hold a major event there of this magnitude is nothing short of a major coup. It didn’t hurt that the developer of the project owns the New York Rangers, (James L. Dolan) but you other leagues and media that are usually poo-pooing the NHL can take a long walk on a short pier. 

Yeah, you read that right. Start walking. The National just aced you. 

The building was opened in late September 2023 and hosted the epic music group U2. They settled into a residency status at the site and performed several shows there. I saw one of those shows and whether it was due to the way the band wanted to do the graphics or if the staff weren’t fully dialed into the capabilities yet, the color usage came across as bland. 

But not last night. The colors were full, rich and over-the-top astounding. 

What about the draft itself? I have never been a draft or stats freak, but I do pay attention to those to the extent that I should. I haven’t missed one of these first-round televised events for several years. 

As expected, Macklin Celebrini, the projected number-one pick did go number one to the San Jose Sharks. 

It was a bit of a wait to get to the Wild at #13, but right before the twelfth selection the Wild swapped positions with the Philadelphia Flyers and selected Zeev Buium from the defending NCAA National Champion University of Denver Pioneers. The 18-year-old pick hails from San Diego, plays defense, and is currently 6’0” and 183 lbs. 

I suspect that in the upcoming years as he matures physically he could put on another 15 to 20 lbs.   

The accolades this young man has won are many and the list is lengthy. The highlights include playing in the USA Hockey NTDP program where he finished the 2022-23 season by winning a Gold Medal at the IIHF U18 tournament. 

He also won Gold with Team USA at the IIHF World Junior tourney in 2024. He started his collegiate career with the Pioneers in the 2023-24 season. He was the NCHC Player of the Month in November of 2023, becoming the first freshman defenseman to ever win the award. 

He then won the NCHC Player of the Month in December. At the end of the season to go along with his National title he was named to the All NCHC First Team and Rookie First Team. 

In addition he was named the Rookie of the Year and Offensive Defenseman of the Year. He has already committed to returning to the Pioneers for the upcoming season. 

Right before the event began I texted my son William wondering how Wild GM Bill Guerin would screw up this year’s draft. I’m quite happy to say that if the draft had ended right after the first round Guerin may have made the pick of the evening last night. 

I’ve seen several articles in the hockey media today stating that Buium may have been the “steal” of the first round. Lets hope. If he becomes the player he is projected to be, he, along with Brock Faber could become cornerstone pieces of the Wild blueline for several seasons to come. 

With Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon aging, Buium and Fabes can step right in. With prospects at Iowa right now, Jack Peart, David Spacek, Kyle Masters, Daemon Hunt, and Carson Lambos, the Wild could have a solid D-corps in the near future. 

Regarding my sour outlook on Guerin, I have watched this club from the very start, and actually before they began competition. After observing the first five seasons of the Guerin tenure I have one question, where in the h-e-double hockey sticks is this club headed? 

Disregarding the positivity of last night’s selection at the draft, when this past season ended, without a playoff berth, I was deflated. I was pretty wrung out by the historical lack of success from this team. And like a great many Wild fans, we didn’t care that the club didn’t make the playoffs because we knew exactly what would happen. They would have been another one and done playoff casualty. I harbor no doubt about that, it’s a fact. 

When the playoffs began I was not giving the Wild much thought at all. As usual I saw every playoff game except one and watched right through seeing the Stanley Cup hoisted by the Florida Panthers. (Congrats to the Cats) I couldn’t help but watch game after game, especially in the Final, thinking that the Wild would have no business even being in this tourney. 

And now, after a couple of seasons of Guerin’s self-inflicted pain upon the franchise, if I do enough digging I can see some light at the end of his tunnel. 

Unfortunately, it is going to include at least one more season of finishing toward the bottom of the Central Division, and that also means the team will miss a second consecutive year of the playoffs.  

If I engage some even deeper thinking, without a top-five franchise-changing draft pick I have to ask if all we are going to see is that the Wild will just elevate back into the top ten of the league without a realistic chance at a Cup. 

Are they headed back to only “pretty good” land or will we see this team have a legitimate shot at bringing the finest trophy in the world to The State of Hockey? 

I watched the NHL Awards the other night, and pretty much every player winning the big awards was a high draft pick in their draft year. Not all of them mind you, but most of them. 

For reasons known only to Wild owner Craig Leipold, he refuses to do what the team needs to do to get one of those future-altering players and that is, have one or two real seasons of a team that flat-out sucks. Picking in the middle of the 1st round of every draft won’t get you there. 

Leo, there’s no Stanley Cup for pretty good... PEACE