In the past few days, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman visited the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in Alberta. On top of catching Connor McDavid live, he stopped in Calgary to check in with the city council and Flames’ ownership regarding any progress towards a new Event Centre.
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As many in the hockey community are well aware, the Scotiabank Saddledome is now the oldest building in the league. Moreover, after acquiring high-profile players like Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, and Nazem Kadri in the summer of 2022, a video introducing Weegar to the Flames dressing room raised many eyebrows.
Although the Saddledome was state-of-art in 1983, the building has sadly become a laughing stock amongst other fan bases, including taunts from Oilers fans who make the three-hour trip south. Of course, they can brag about Rogers Place, a modern-day multi-purpose arena that opened in 2016. However, fans seem to forget that Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz struck a deal with the City of Edmonton, paying very little out of his pocket and leaving the city on the hook for most of the costs.
Calgary Has a Different Mindset Toward Arena Project
The Saddledome played host to the 1988 Winter Olympics and underwent a significant renovation in the mid-1990s. Eventually, almost 18 years later, the building would be submerged underwater when Calgary suffered one of the worst floods in its history.
Amazingly, construction crews emptied the building quickly and started repairs to prepare the facility for opening night. Although there have been many discussions about replacing the Saddledome, the flood escalated things since it highlighted the importance of protecting the grounds from future natural disasters.
Interestingly, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group and the City of Calgary came together for a deal in 2019. However, the rising costs caused the two sides to abandon the project, leaving many to wonder what would happen to the club if they didn’t find a new home.
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Unlike their northern rivals, the Flames ownership group was responsible for their fair share of the construction costs and requested the city chip in some extra dollars to complete the deal. Yet, the city council refused to spend extra money on the project since the citizens wouldn’t see any benefits.
The discussions regarding a new arena deal have reached the political stratosphere, with Alberta’s premier Danielle Smith commenting that she’s been informed about the talks but was unable to discuss details publicly. Although there are no guarantees regarding a new facility, she recognizes other cities’ efforts to request franchises and hopes that the Flames stay in Calgary.
Gary Bettman Sees Progress For the First Time in a Decade
While in Alberta, commissioner Bettman sat down with the Flames’ ownership group and Calgary city council. Even though he was not there to negotiate any new deals, he was there to listen to both sides and see if there has been any progress since the falling out of 2019.
While speaking to the media about his trip, Bettman explained that he felt genuine progress towards a new deal for the first time in years. Additionally, he expressed his enthusiasm about a new Event Centre and its impact on the community, which would keep the Flames in southern Alberta for another half-century.
Although Bettman has a lot on his plate as the commissioner, his presence in Alberta last week will go a long way in the discussions. Considering that Calgary is an iconic hockey market, his appearance signals his intentions to assist in a new deal in any way he can.
Right now, no one will come out and show all their cards since both sides are playing this one close to the chest. However, the fact that they believe legitimate progress is happening is a positive sign for all parties invested in seeing the project come to life.
Finally, Good News for the Flames in a Lackluster Season
After an impressive summer, the expectations for the Flames were high coming into this season. Unfortunately, after winning the Pacific Division championship and bowing out in the second round of the 2022 Playoffs, the team has struggled this year and currently sits outside the playoff picture.
Despite having elite talent in the lineup, the Flames have taken a step back toward their goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Calgary. Consequently, there will be plenty of time in the upcoming offseason to make the necessary adjustments to get the team back into contention without blowing the roster up.
Although the season may not be as successful as many had hoped, the news of progress for a new arena may be the biggest win of the calendar year. Overall, securing a new facility will benefit the Flames and the hockey community in western Canada, which could host future NHL and international hockey events. Even though the final decision will come down to just two parties, everyone would benefit from a new home for hockey in southern Alberta.