After years of lobbying, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik got his wish on Thursday afternoon.
With other important local officials present, Vinik, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHL officially announced that the NHL All-Star Game is returning to Tampa Bay from January 26-28, 2018. The last time the All-Star Game took place at Amalie Arena was January 1999. Since then, the Lightning have grown from a laughingstock to a franchise that contends every season. Lightning CEO Steve Griggs, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, and Rob Higgins of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission also took part in the press conference as well.
Vinik couldn’t have been more proud to make the announcement, addressing Lightning fans during the press conference at Amalie Arena.
“You deserve this All-Star Game, you have provided us this tremendous support. You have created one of the strongest franchises in the NHL,” said Vinik.
Bettman also praised Vinik and the Tampa Bay area in awarding it the All-Star Game.
“When you have great ownership and a team embraced by the community, wonderful things can happen,” said Bettman. “We’re delighted to be a part of it.”
Following statements from all parties, the media began to ask questions. One of the longest ongoing stories across the league has been the NHL’s stance on Olympic participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
When asked about the possibility of Olympic participation, Bettman’s response was swift and immediate.
“None. As in no possibility. I think we’ve been about as clear on this subject as we can be,” said Bettman. “We made an announcement six weeks ago. I reaffirmed that announcement on Monday. I know there’s a lot of people saying, the international Ice Hockey Federation, the IOC, even the players association, ‘Oh no, this can still happen.’ No it can’t. We’ll be here, looking forward to being here, and the Olympics should not be a concern.”
In past years, when the NHL has participated in the Olympics, they have not held an All-Star Game. It’s safe to say this official announcement spells an end to any discussion about the Olympics.
It’s been no secret that Vinik has pushed for a major NHL event to come to Tampa. Whether it be the All-Star Game, the NHL Entry Draft, or even an outdoor game, the desire has been there.
“I had a joke with Gary that I told him that every time I see him, I was gonna ask for an All-Star Game. And he just couldn’t stand it anymore,” joked Vinik.
Bettman quickly interjected, with his response drawing laughter from the assembeld media.
“Maybe because it wasn’t only once every time he saw me, it was kind of like a broken record,” said Bettman.
At one point, the subject of an outdoor game in Tampa came up, and Bettman did not dismiss it.
“That’s something that, believe it or not, we’re going to consider at some point when we understand the weather patterns a little bit better and whether or not we can actually create an ice condition that’s suitable for an NHL game,” said Bettman.
While an outdoor game in Tampa seems like a longshot for the time being, it was pretty evident that all sides are thrilled with the fact the All-Star Game is returning to the Tampa Bay area for the first time in almost two decades.