TAMPA — Two weeks from today, this city will host its first special NHL event in nearly two decades with the All-Star Game at Amalie Arena. The last All-Star Game in Tampa was 1999.
But it sounds like the city won’t have to wait nearly as long for its next major hockey event.
Tampa is a strong candidate to host an outdoor game at Raymond James Stadium, with the Lightning and the league believing it’s a matter of when, not if, that will happen.
The NHL will announce its sites for the 2020 and 2021 outdoor games this summer.
"Tampa is absolutely on the shorter list of places that we’re considering," NHL executive vice president Steve Mayer told the Tampa Bay Times. "I think given the stadium, given the team, given the market, I think it’s a great candidate for an outdoor game."
The Lightning made its official bid for an outdoor game in August 2016, offering a vision of what it would look like.
Rob Higgins — who has helped bring the Super Bowl, college football’s championship game and other major events to Tampa with his work at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission — detailed the available hotel and meeting spaces, integrating local businesses and sponsors.
Lightning CEO Steve Griggs said the team worked with meteorologists to figure out the average temperatures in January and February, taking into effect El Nino and La Nina climate currents.
"We’ve done our homework," Griggs said.
They compared Tampa’s average temperatures to those recorded at the outdoor games played in Los Angeles and Denver. Mayer said the temperature at Denver’s Coors Field on Feb. 27, 2016, for the Avalanche-Red Wings game was around 70 degrees, higher than it was in Tampa that day.
"The way we’re doing the ice (for outdoor games) has changed and evolved over the years. It can handle extremes," Mayer said. "You can never play an afternoon game. But nighttime (in Tampa) it gets cool and could easily handle an outdoor game."
Mayer said Tampa hosting this year’s All-Star Game won’t affect when it gets its next big event. Griggs believes the game might actually help put the city in a better position for future big events if it can pull off a "world class" production.
First, the Lightning will focus on the All-Star Game, but it won’t be too long after the game is over that it will be working again on an outdoor game.
"Probably the next morning," Griggs said, smiling.
The Lightning’s five-day bye week, which began Friday, couldn’t have come at a better time for the team, especially goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy, the team MVP and leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy (league’s best goalie), has allowed 15 goals in his past three games.
"Sometimes games like this are going to happen," he said. "You can see in the last couple of games that I’ve played. Just tips, bad breaks, bounces, all this stuff, and it ends up in the back of our net. But it happens sometimes."
Vasilevskiy said everyone will benefit from a mental break. Thursday was his 36th start of the season in the Lightning’s 44 games. "Yes, get a little rest and come back to play with a clear mind and rested body," Vasilevskiy said.
Best wishes to NBC broadcaster Pierre McGuire, who had successful prostate cancer surgery last week. He says he hopes to be back for coverage of the February Olympics. … Around 10,000 Lightning season-ticket holders bought tickets for the now-sold-out All-Star Game. Many suite holders and loge box owners also bought in. … Goalie Louis Domingue’s reassignment to AHL Syracuse during the bye week is not only good for him to stay sharp by playing. He’ll also be able to see his 2-year-old daughter, Mila, who lives in Montreal. … Wing Nikita Kucherov has started a branded clothing and accessories line for men, women and kids at 86kuch.com. He also plans to start a foundation. … Seems like Flo Rida performs at every major sporting event, especially in this state.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.