NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was here at Mellon Arena Friday night for the raising of the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup banner, but the irony of some of the things he dealt with during the summer was apparent.
Bettman said the renaissance of hockey in Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, including the soon-to-open Consol Energy Center across the street, is proof that the League needs to do everything possible to keep all 30 teams in their markets because success is possible if the effort is put in.
"It goes to the point that we've always said we don't move franchises unless we have no choice," Bettman said during a pre-game media session. "We think we owe it to our fans. We have a covenant with our fans to try and live up to the fact that they invest so much in us emotionally and financially and I believe that Pittsburgh not only was worth saving but could be saved as an NHL market. The parallel is very similar to Phoenix."
Like Phoenix, the Penguins had to be rescued from bankruptcy -- though Bettman said the situation in Phoenix has its own unique issues.
"It's going to be a lot of work (to rebuild) because I think there was a concerted effort this summer by some to make the franchise in Phoenix as difficult to sell as possible," he said. "That doesn't mean we're not going to do the right things and try to fix it and make it right."
Bettman said that while difficult, "It doesn't mean it can't be fixed."
The commissioner said another parallel between Phoenix and Pittsburgh can be seen in the new home the Pens will open next season.
"What I liked about it is it's big but intimate," Bettman said. "You can go to the last row of seating in the upper deck and look down and you've got a great view of the ice. It looks like it's going to be comfortable. The concourses are wide, vast; the amenities are going to be great. The view you're going to have of the Pittsburgh skyline, the functionality of the building, it's all there. This is a state-of-the-art, first-class building. From an NHL standpoint, teams are going to like playing there. But from a Pittsburgh standpoint, people here are going to be very proud of this building.
"It seems to have taken some of the best features of our new buildings. I saw a little bit of Minnesota in it, little bit of New Jersey, and Phoenix, too. The open concourses where, even if you're in the upper deck in the most modest-priced seats, you're going to be able to go comfortably to the concession stands, watch the game, mill about as if you're in your own suite. It's very well designed. It's going to be great."
Bettman did take a moment to reminisce about Mellon Arena, which has hosted the Penguins since their birth in 1967.
"This building is unique," he said. "Ushering in this season, the last season here, will be memorable. This is a memorable building. It is unique in all the world, and to have Game 1 of the last season, raising the banner, is memorable. I think the fans here will enjoy the experience and have the emotional connection of celebrating the way they regularly celebrate at games, people in their usual seats, having 17,000 fans together, focused on this special night. I think its going to be a great night."
Built in 1961, Mellon Arena is unique for its retractable-roof dome that earned it the nickname "The Igloo." The building hasn't been as well-maintained over the years as it could have and should have been, and the move across the street is something fans and players alike are looking forward to.
Despite its age and less-than-stellar amenities, the building does have a certain flavor and feel that never can be replicated. The commissioner was asked if there was any one thing that he would miss when the Pens move to the new building.
"If the chicken fingers are as good at Consol as they are here, it'll be a plus," Bettman said.
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