The Calgary Flames had a very productive summer, replacing departed superstars with new ones and retooling their roster to stay in contention. When people were ready to write their final roster in pen, general manager Brad Treliving acquired Nazem Kadri, the league’s best free agent left on the market. There were very few moments during the offseason when people were not talking about the Flames in one capacity or another.
Buoyed by the news from their transactions, the team was riding a wave of momentum, only to see all their positive press turn negative last week. The Flames took to social media to showcase MacKenzie Weegar‘s tour of his new dressing room, complete with a new jersey and stall. The internet lost its collective mind as Weegar entered through the oversized dressing room doors, and the camera panned across an empty, lifeless NHL dressing room.
The stalls were empty of gear, and the room looked like somewhere you’d dress with your buddies for a beer league game at the local community rink. There was nothing special about the room, and if it weren’t for the flaming C logo on the front doors or the ceiling, you’d never guess this was a home dressing room for a Stanley Cup-winning NHL team. Organizations across the hockey community took to social media to mock the Flames for their poor surroundings, with some minor hockey teams showcasing facilities far superior to those offered at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Scotiabank Saddledome Through the Years
The much-talked about Weegar video is not a fair representation of what the Flames’ dressing room looks like in the middle of January. Anyone can Google “Calgary Flames dressing room” and find themselves amongst hundreds of photos that showcase it at the peak of activity. Filled with equipment and everything else players need to ply their trade, the room looks alive in so many photos that it’s hard to believe the one in the video is the same.
The Flames’ room in the Saddledome has been their home since the facility opened in 1983. It is the one where the team strategized for their battles with the Montreal Canadiens during the 1986 and 1989 Stanley Cup Final, winning their only title in the 1989 rematch. The same room comes to life in early September and doesn’t empty until the season ends and the ice is removed.
If anyone walked into the Saddledome today, one week after the Weegar video, the ice probably hasn’t been installed, and any last-minute renovation projects are just wrapping up. Preseason hockey may be around the corner, but a building used year-round always needs a little extra love and care on down days, especially after some of the traumatic moments in the past.
The Alberta 2013 Floods
Calgary is at the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. In early June 2013, the area experienced heavy bouts of rainfall which led to several rivers like the Bow and Elbow flooding the city. The Saddledome was one of the many buildings that suffered significant flood damage, with most of the lower bowl submerged in river water.
As the two rivers slowly went back to normal, the clean-up efforts kicked into high gear, with the Flames’ home opener just 106 days away. It took weeks to drain the water and start the overhaul process of replacing the old with the new.
The Saddledome underwent a massive upgrade in 1994 ($37 million). However, that was a planned renovation, while this natural disaster cost an undetermined amount of money in restoration, as an unknown number of people worked non-stop to open the gates again for an Eagles concert on Sept. 11, 2013.
Calgary Event Centre Plans
The floods and restoration projects across the city opened the discussion on future precautions to avoid a repeat disaster. The Saddledome turned 30 years old in 2013, and as the calendar creeps to 2023, the facility will soon begin its 40th year of operation. Only Madison Square Garden has been open longer than the Saddledome. The saving grace for the World’s Most Famous Arena was a recent renovation in 2013, which cost over $1.19 billion, prolonging the life of a facility that opened in 1963. Of course, there are talks about relocating the Garden at some point, but as a central transportation hub (Penn Station) for Manhattan, it will be hard to just pick up and leave.
The Saddledome is part of a complex that includes the Stampede Grounds, which hosts the annual Calgary Stampede, one of Canada’s biggest rodeo events. Located in the middle of the Elbow and Bow Rivers, the complexes are subject to future flooding, and there are no guarantees that they will overcome the next one.
There’s been talk about replacing the Saddledome with a new complex of venues, namely the Calgary Event Center, which the Flames would call home. It would also be the new facility for the Western Hockey League Calgary Hitmen and the National Lacross League Calgary Roughnecks. The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) owns all three franchises, including the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation
The CSEC is an investment group led by N. Murray Edwards (net worth $2.7 billion US), Alvin G. Libin ($1-5 million US), Allan Markin ($600 million US), and Jeffrey J. McCraig ($5 million US). In their quest to strike a deal with the City of Calgary over a new arena, they proposed a complex in 2015 that never came to fruition. The two sides met again in 2017, with the city approving a new facility; however, the CSEC found it less appealing from a business standpoint, so they walked away from the table.
After a few more years, in 2019, the two sides agreed on a proposed $550 million Event Center. Everything seemed on track until 2021 when the city council raised concerns over the budget. As preparations got underway, the project cost grew to $608.5 million forcing each side to chip in a little extra to keep everything on track. Citing problems with the original agreement, the CSEC pulled out of the deal in December 2021, jeopardizing the team’s future.
The entire stalemate has made headlines across the country. The new arena deal has weighed heavy on local political elections, with people divided on the project. Meanwhile, while they can’t get shovels in the ground in Calgary, their provincial counterparts in Edmonton recently opened Rogers Place (2016), a project worth $450 million.
The Oilers’ owner is Daryl Katz, whose net worth is estimated to be $4.3 billion. He negotiated with the City of Edmonton that his organization would pay just $100 million towards the project. The city then picked up the rest of the costs ($350 million) to revitalize its downtown core. Overall, the Ice District has been a positive investment for the city, leading to new construction projects in the area. Although the project is far from complete, everything has gone off without the negative press usually associated with such a vast undertaking.
The Future of the Saddledome
For the Flames to continue their quest for another Stanley Cup in Calgary, the CSEC and the city council must put their differences aside and realize the potential economic rewards of a new event complex. First, the local professional sports organizations would benefit from facility upgrades. Additionally, the city would have an easier time attracting significant events, like the World Junior Championship, as well as headline concerts, which would help the city financially as they grow its reputation as a premier destination for major attractions.
No one would have thought that a successful offseason of recruiting and signing elite NHL talent would get overshadowed in the final days of summer. The team didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by any means; however, they didn’t do themselves any favors by showcasing how outdated their facilities are.
Related: The Saddledome’s Uncertain Future
The Flames may be contenders today and for the foreseeable future, but the Weegar video and subsequent mockery on social media made management’s next pitch to sign with the team a little more challenging. Hockey players are a brotherhood, and despite their differences on the ice, they are a tight-knit family. They talk and share experiences, so you can rest assured that after this, anyone who wants to come to Calgary will call someone they know and discuss the club’s inner workings.
Players want a chance to succeed and have the modern amenities to better themselves while their team employs them. When those are not viable options, the organization may find it difficult to lure new talent without opening up talks with the city about the new facility they so desperately need.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.