National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman attended Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory over Calgary, spending time with Lightning Chairman and Governor Jeff Vinik and meeting with Bolts sponsors, season ticket members and suite holders.
Talking to reporters between the first and second periods, Bettman said he tries to visit each NHL city at least once during the season and was impressed with the energy inside Amalie Arena Thursday night.
“It’s nice to see the building alive,” he said. “It’s nice to see the team competitive. I spent a fair amount of time with Jeff. We talked about a whole host of issues that were on his mind, but he and the franchise seem to be in a good place.”
One of the issues Bettman and Vinik discussed was the owner’s plans for the Channelside District, which Vinik has invested heavily in.
“I know when he came here, he was focused on the nuts and bolts of dealing with the building and he put tens of millions of dollars into this building and building an organization that would grow the team competitively, but when he moved down here and got involved in the community, he became more and more intrigued about the opportunities to continue to propel the growth for Tampa,” Bettman said. “I think his vision for Channelside is exciting. It’s compelling. When you think about all these investing of himself emotionally, financially in Tampa, I think it’s awesome. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in recent Tampa history.”
Bettman said on his way to the arena, he was reminded by a local fan it had been 15 years since Tampa Bay had hosted the NHL All-Star Game.
“I go, ‘That’s right, and in that time there were still 15 clubs that haven’t seen one,’” Bettman said. “League events have become so attractive that everybody wants them, and it’s not so much that there’s a pecking order, but we try to be as inclusive as possible. We know that this is a great place to host events. We’ll be back at some point in some form in doing it. Maybe when some of the construction around this area is done, it’ll make for even a more compelling event and gathering of people, so we’re keeping our eye on it. But, I assure you that Jeff is extraordinarily proactive in pitching on behalf of greater Tampa.”
Bettman said the key to a successful NHL franchise is ownership and reiterated the Lightning are in good hands with Vinik, Chief Executive Officer and Alternate Governor Tod Leiweke and Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman.
“I’ve always said there are three things that will ultimately define a franchise,” Bettman said. “It’s the market. Tampa’s a great sports market. It’s the building, and this building, as good as it was, was made better. And it’s ownership, which is probably the most important thing.”
Bettman pointed to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos as “exhibit A” of the league’s push to become faster, younger and more skilled.
“It’s great for the league to have great, young stars,” Bettman said. “I’m sure the fans in Tampa are thrilled that he’s playing for them on a long-term basis. If you’re a fan who’s not a Tampa fan, you’re going to be happy when you get a chance to see his magic and you get to see him play.”
On NHL expansion, Bettman stated “nothing’s imminent” and also added that he is in discussions with the NHLPA on hosting a World Cup of Hockey but the tournament hasn’t been finalized.