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Commissioner Gary Bettman lauds Rogers Place

Also discusses Stanley Cup Playoff positions, Wayne Gretzky's new job with Oilers in visit to Edmonton

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman used the word "phenomenal" during his first visit to a completed Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton on Tuesday.

The new home of the Edmonton Oilers, which seats 18,642 and cost $480 million, opened for the start of the 2016-17 NHL season. 

"Seeing it finished, the arena, it's nothing short of phenomenal," Commissioner Bettman said Tuesday. "The way it's put together is ingenious. It is created and crafted and it has every amenity imaginable. The finishing touches and the way the building flows and the sight lines, incredible. 

"I can't say enough good things about it and it's testament to Daryl (Katz, Oilers owner) and his organization as to what they've accomplished here." 

Bettman was also enthused about the development around Rogers Place, called the Ice District. It will include a hotel combined with a residential tower, a 66-story office-residential tower that will be the tallest building in Canada west of Toronto when it's completed in 2018, and another condominium tower.

Integral to the Ice District will be a central public plaza, and all of it is under construction across the street from Rogers Place. 

"I knew that there was a great vision for what this arena would be and what the Ice District would represent for Edmonton," the Commissioner said. "When you see the entire Ice District, this has been and will continue to be transformational for Edmonton for decades to come. That speaks well not just for as a home for the Oilers but for the quality of life in Edmonton. 

"It's exciting to see, rewarding to see and it's a little bit of fun to watch the team perform better than it has in the last few years in its first year in its new home." 

The Commissioner began a four-day tour to Canadian NHL cities Tuesday. He's scheduled to be in Calgary on Wednesday, Vancouver on Thursday and Ottawa on Friday. 

Other subjects he discussed on Tuesday included:

-- His role in facilitating communication during five years of back-and-forth arena negotiations between Katz and the City of Edmonton that eventually led to an agreement in August, 2013. 

"I was always committed to making it work," Commissioner Bettman said. "I tend to view what happened over the last five or six years was that Daryl Katz had a vision and that vision was embraced by (former) Mayor (Stephen) Mandel, and while at times they might not have seen things the same way, if I served a useful function, I think I kept the lines of communications open and I think made sure they understood each other and that we could get to a place that made sense for everybody. 

"The impact of everything we're witnessing, this building and the construction across the street, is an economic engine in addition to everything else, including as I said, for the quality of life in Edmonton. 

"This is a win-win for everybody." 

 -- Tight races for Stanley Cup Playoff positions and the potential for teams to reset quickly after missing the postseason.

"Competitively, if the playoffs opened today, I think seven teams that weren't in the playoffs (last season) would be in the playoffs," Commissioner Bettman said. "And while everybody was suggesting that there was nothing but gloom and doom for the Canadian teams in the NHL last year (when none qualified for the playoffs), lo and behold if the playoffs started now five of the seven Canadian teams would be in the playoffs. 

"That's what you get year-to-year when you have the incredible competitive balance that we do. The state of the League is strong and our franchises have never been stronger and the game is exciting, competitive and entertaining."

-- A future All-Star Game and NHL Draft are strong possibilities for Edmonton. 

"I believe we should have a draft here," the Commissioner said. "I believe we should have an All-Star Game here, but I would like to see the entire Ice District complete because when we do that and we show off Edmonton and the Ice District to the world, I'd like it to be done. Depending on the pace of construction and everything else, we'll be thrilled to bring our League events here. I'd like it all to be done and let everybody see what this is all about." 

-- The Commissioner is pleased that NHL all-time scoring leader Wayne Gretzky rejoined the Oilers as a partner and vice-chair in October. 

"It's great to have Wayne in the League on an active basis," Commissioner Bettman said. "We went a little first because we made him the Centennial ambassador. He agreed to do it and he was enthused about doing it. 

"I think Daryl, with his sense of commitment to this city and the history and tradition of the game and his and my abiding respect for Wayne, he wanted Wayne active with this franchise because he thought it was important to the franchise, the city and to Wayne. And I think it's been a really good fit. 

"(Gretzky) is as excited to be this active as we are excited to have him this active." 

-- The Commissioner was asked if Rogers Place and the Ice District could lead to progress for a new arena in Calgary. 

"It would be nice to hope that's the case, and I hope that's the case," he said. "Since I'm up here today and going there tomorrow, I don't want to make my welcome too hot when I get there. But Calgary obviously needs a new arena and hopefully this arena and this complex is inspirational." 

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