Lightning could host 2018 All-Star Game
The NHL All-Star Game could be returning to Tampa Bay for the first time in nearly two decades, the Lightning the leading candidate to host the 2018 event in January at Amalie Arena.
But what has prevented this from being a done deal is partly potential conflicts with both the world's and city's most iconic events.
Many of the league's top players - including several Lightning All-Stars - have said they want to compete in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The fact the NHL's much-debated decision to not participate in the Olympics didn't come until last month delayed the selection process for host of the All-Star Game, which isn't typically played during Olympic years.
And while Tampa has long lobbied for, and is the top candidate, for the next All-Star Game, a deal is not a certainty. In what's usually a complicated negotiation, one wrinkle could be Gasparilla. The century-old festival, which draws several hundred thousand people, is scheduled in Tampa on the same Jan. 28 weekend of the All-Star Game. Neither the Lightning, nor the league, would comment Wednesday. But there appears hope on both sides a deal can get done and announcement comes soon.
The Lightning last hosted an All-Star Game in 1999, but has been strongly pushing for a special event in Tampa ever since owner Jeff Vinik took over in 2010.
"I think it's great for the area, great for Tampa," Lightning founder Phil Esposito said. ‘It's also good for our franchise."
A few NHL representatives visited Tampa last fall as part of a multi-city scouting tour for potential sites for the All-Star Game, draft and outdoor games. The city, and the Lightning, made a sparkling impression.
"There's no question we are absolutely strongly considering Tampa in the mix," NHL executive vice president Steve Mayer told the Times back in December. "The city can house a world-class event. It's proving it time after time after time."
Tampa, which hosted the NCAA College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium, and has also held four Super Bowls, two Frozen Fours and an NCAA women's Final Four, among other big events. That experience plays a role, Mayer said.
"Without saying what we would consider, I think there's nothing that they couldn't do in Tampa," Mayer said.
Also a factor is the transformation of the Lightning franchise and the city since Vinik bought the team in 2010, from lengthy playoff runs in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 to the $100 million invested in Amalie Arena and planned $1 billion in downtown.
Whenever Vinik and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman meet, the Lightning owner broaches the subject of hosting a special event.
"Every time (I ask), (Bettman) says, ‘You're on the list' and ‘You're moving toward the head of the list,' " Vinik has said. "We'll get one."
It looks like the Lightning just might.