As the 2016-17 National Hockey League season nears its conclusion, thoughts turned to next season and the NHL All-Star Game. Commissioner Gary Bettman was in town to join a press conference at Amalie Arena to talk about recent awarding of next year’s game to Tampa Bay.
Bettman was the first to discuss the dates of All-Star Weekend, January 26-28, coinciding with Gasparilla activities. He was undaunted by any logistical challenges and the league was well aware of the Tampa tradition long before awarding the game.
“This weekend is going to be something special,” Bettman said. “We plan to make both events more special.”
Bettman also made it clear that the league’s superstars will be in town and not practicing for the February Winter Olympics. NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 games to be held in South Korea.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn expressed his enthusiasm about having two major events going at once.
“The opportunity to marry that great event with the hockey all-star game is a dream come true,” he said. “We do this better than anywhere in the world. This is also an opportunity for the world to see a city that has transformed itself.”
Both Bettman and Buckhorn talked about the transformation of Tampa’s Channelside area, turning it into a vibrant source of activity and commerce. They gave proper credit to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who had a message for the Lightning organization and fans.
“You deserve this all-star game,” he said. “You have allowed us to dream big.”
Vinik referenced the 107 consecutive sellouts the Lightning have enjoyed.
2018 will mark the second time the Lightning has hosted the All-Star Weekend. In 1999 the game was played in the current Lightning home, which was then called the Ice Palace.
It will also mark the second time a major sporting event has coincided with Gasparilla. In 2001, Super Bowl XXXV was in town as Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla was taking over the city.
While everyone with the Lightning and Buckhorn’s staff is pleased with the chance to conduct both events simultaneous, Buckhorn was asked about the city’s greatest challenge, especially on Saturday, when the Gasparilla parade takes place.
“Traffic,” he said succinctly. “Game night (Sunday) will be fine, but Saturday will be challenging.”
They have 8 months to come up with a plan.