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Jones: Tampa delights in being Break Glass In Case of Emergency City (w/ video)

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (center) addresses the audience along with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik (left) and City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (right) during a press conference to discuss the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend, planned for AMALIE Arena on January 26-28. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (center) addresses the audience along with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik (left) and City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (right) during a press conference to discuss the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend, planned for AMALIE Arena on January 26-28. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Jun. 2, 2017

TAMPA — Welcome to Tampa, the Break Glass In Case of Emergency City.

Bring us your tired, your poor, your NHL skills competition. Whatever you want, Tampa has whatever it takes.

Rain in California postpones Super Bowl plans there? No problem, Tampa can host the Big Game.

Looking for a college football national championship game host? Make reservations for Tampa.

And now the NHL All-Star Game.

There wasn't even supposed to be a 2018 NHL All-Star Game. Next year is an Olympic year. Everyone assumed the NHL stars would be headed to the Winter Games, just as they had for the past five Olympic hockey tournaments. But now, it appears, the NHL is not going to the Olympics. Suddenly there was an emergency opening for an All-Star Game.

Break glass, reach inside and pull out a fire ax known as Tampa.

Oh, and it case you think this is all some big ruse, a calculated bluff, a game of chicken to kick-start negotiations to see to it that the NHL goes to the Olympics, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shut down that idea Thursday at Amalie Arena.

I asked the commish point-blank if there was any possibility that the NHL could still go.

"None,'' Bettman said. "As in no possibility. I think we've been about as clear on this subject as we can be. … I know there are lots of people saying, including the International Ice Hockey Federation and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) even the (NHL) players association, 'Oh no no, this can still happen.' No it can't.

"We will be here and we're looking forward to being here and the Olympics should not be a concern because we're not going to be shutting down to participate next year.''

So put it down in the permanent marker. Bettman says that there will be a 2018 All-Star Game and it will be right here.

Maybe skipping the Olympics is bad news for most hockey fans, but it's good news that Tampa Bay was able to grab a hold of the NHL's shirt sleeves just as it was about to fall off the cliff at the last second.

Or was it at the last second? Sounds as if Lightning owner Jeff Vinik put a bug in Bettman's ear long ago.

"We were focused on what we were going to do for our big events longer than it appeared,'' Bettman said. "So Jeff and I have been talking about this for a long period of time.''

The official local announcement that All-Star Weekend is coming here Jan. 26-28 (the same weekend as Gasparilla) was made Thursday and all the big hitters were there, alongside Bettman, to celebrate. There was Vinik and Lightning CEO Steve Griggs. There was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins.

But the real star? Tampa itself and a 20-year-old arena that still stacks up with the newest, swankiest arenas in the NHL.

"It's better than new because $90 million have been put into it,'' Bettman said. "The building is as nice as any building in the world. You look at what Jeff has done with the organization on and off the ice. You look at what he has done with the community. You look at what he's doing with Channelside. You look at the fact that this team has had over 100 consecutive sellouts. All the pieces have come together because we have an owner who has committed himself to the community, using his energy and his resources, to do everything here to make Tampa, the building and the team a first-class experience.''

You also better bet that Tampa absolutely killed it at January's college football title game, something that was noticed by anybody with a big event to plan and a big game to play.

"You're only as good as your last event,'' Higgins said. "The week after (the football title game), we were getting notes (from sports executives) saying, 'Hey, we saw what you did and congratulations and I'm sure we will be talking soon.' ''

Apparently, Bettman did some talking.

"There's no doubt in our mind that Tampa can host big events,'' Bettman said. "Its capacity to do so has only gotten better over the years.''

Everyone knows that we have a slew of big events coming to town: a Super Bowl, the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the NCAA women's Final Four, the SEC basketball tournament. And this could just be the start of a string of NHL events.

The Lightning is tapping Bettman on the shoulder about hosting an NHL draft and, get this, an outdoor game. Bettman said playing a game outside in Florida is definitely a possibility if it the NHL can figure out the proper weather patterns and how to keep ice fresh in 70-degree weather.

Hey, if anyone can pull off an outdoor game in sunny and hot Florida, you know who can?

Tampa.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow >@tomwjones

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