Bettman: Not sure outdoor game in Tampa is doable

TAMPA — Commissioner Gary Bettman, in town Tuesday to watch the Lightning’s season opener and Stanley Cup banner raising, said the NHL is intrigued and looks periodically at the possibility of holding an outdoor game in Tampa.

But he said he wonders if such a game could work under the Florida sun.

“Do I think Tampa, is a market that can host this kind of major event? The answer’s yes,” Bettman said before Tuesday’s opener. “Do I think the support this club would get for an outdoor game would be phenomenal? The answer is yes. Do I have severe weather concerns? The answer is yes.”

The Lightning will play their first outdoor game this season against the Nashville Predators at Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has campaigned for an outdoor game in Tampa for several years, and Bettman said his ears always have been open.

But he questions whether it’s realistic, pointing to the struggles the league had with the ice softening during last season’s outdoor game in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“We’ve done 32-33 outdoor games, and up until Lake Tahoe we were good to go in any weather condition we were confronted with,” Bettman said. “Weather, particularly in a warm climate, can be a challenge, and again, the safety of the players is paramount. The ice after the first period of the first game in Tahoe became sufficiently soft because of the sun.”

“We’ll continue to look at it,” Bettman continued. “It is a challenge weather-wise to make sure that we can provide a game that’s competitive in game-safe conditions. But if we do, it would be great. We’re just not 100 percent or close to 100-percent sure that it’s doable because of the weather at this point.”

NHL gets back to normal

Bettman lauded all of the parties that helped the league return to its normal October start, traditional 82-game schedule and division alignments. He said there were only four unvaccinated players on opening night, and all officials and personnel that come in contact with players are vaccinated.

“Maybe that’s why hockey is the ultimate team sport,” Bettman said.

“Health and safety has been and continues to be paramount. And even though our vaccination rate throughout the league is incredible … we know we’re going to have to fight through COVID instances and we’re reminded of that and we continue to reinforce the fact that everybody has to remain vigilant, particularly when we have our teams traveling where teams typically do.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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