By Jim Diamond
When the official announcement that Nashville will host the 2016 All-Star Game was made Friday morning at Bridgestone Arena, it was the culmination of many years of gambles that many people took on the city of Nashville and on the Predators as well.
Several of those people were sitting on the dais in the newly-christened Lexus Lounge on the arena’s event level during the announcement. One of the first to speak was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who awarded Nashville a conditional franchise back in 1997.
Bettman has been the NHL’s top man since 1993, when the league consisted of 24 teams. Under his guidance, the league has expanded to 30 teams, some in markets not previously viewed as ones people would consider hockey hotbeds.
During Bettman’s tenure, teams based in warmer locales like Dallas, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Anaheim and Los Angeles, California have all won the Stanley Cup.
When he was introduced Friday, many in attendance applauded Bettman. That kind of a response was in stark contrast to the type he usually receives in many NHL cities, where boos often rain down upon the man who has overseen multiple lockouts, including one that saw an entire season cancelled.
“Don’t stop, I’m not used to that,” Bettman joked to the cheering crowd.
Asked Friday if he will look back on Nashville as one of his prouder achievements when his tenure as commissioner eventually comes to an end, Bettman deflected any attention away from himself.
“I’m not one who looks back,” Bettman said. “We always believed that this would be a great place for NHL hockey and we believe that has been the case.”
Not all of Bettman’s gambles have paid off though. Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise at the same time Nashville was, and the Thrashers began play a season after the Predators. Numerous factors contributed to the demise of Atlanta and their eventual move to Winnipeg, including poor on-ice results as well as ownership woes. The league had to take over the troubled then Phoenix Coyotes, where again, ownership issues and poor attendance plagued the team.