Gary Bettman: Florida Panthers are growing hockey in South Florida
SUNRISE — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gets booed just about every time he is publicly introduced at a hockey function.
Florida Panthers fans should consider ending that tradition, at least temporarily, next season when the NHL All-Star Weekend is held at whatever the arena in Sunrise will be named by then.
If not for Bettman, the Panthers may have packed up and left town long ago.
Yet here Bettman was on Thursday night, enjoying a playoff game in an arena he quietly frequents as he spends a lot of off time in Palm Beach County.
The Panthers, a franchise teetering on the verge of collapse a few years prior, were now hosting another postseason game with more than 19,000 in the building.
When asked if he felt like a “proud uncle” for how the Panthers have moved up in the marketplace, Bettman smiled.
“I will use the parent analogy; I have have lots of kids and grandkids and I love them all,” he said. “Same when it comes to franchises. What I am pleased to see is the the level of connection the community has and all the things Vinnie Viola and this organization has done to really raise the game. And I mean that from the euphemistic sense as well. It is great to see.
”Hockey, at all levels, is growing here. That’s what it is all about. It’s all about the game. It’s about the arena, sure, but it’s hockey at all levels. … Everybody loves to win.’’
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Bettman spoke to the gathered media during the first intermission of Thursday’s game and touched on a number of topics from women’s hockey to diversity in the game.
But, he led off with how pleased he was to see “excitement not just in this building or in this area, but throughout Florida. The combination of how well the Panthers are doing combined with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions up the road … I think there is an unprecedented level of interest.”
The Panthers, at the time, had a 2-0 lead on the Capitals and would eventually even up the series at one game apiece.
”When it comes to the Panthers, what Vinnie Viola has done has been sensational,” said Bettman, who has been speaking to reporters as he tours various playoff cities.
“His committment to this franchise and this community, not just terms of investment in the team on the ice but the organization he’s built as well as War Memorial. This franchise’s ability and willingness to invest in the community is vitally important.”
— When Joel Quenneville resigned a coach of the Panthers in October, Bettman said there would have to be a meeting if he was to be hired by another NHL team.
Although Bettman would not confirm it, Quenneville was reportedly told if he did not resign, he would have been suspended.
There have been reports that Quenneville may draw feelers from teams looking to fill openings for next season but Bettman said there have been no talks with Quenneville nor his representation.
Quenneville, Bettman said, would have to reach out if he wanted to meet.
“There’s nothing currently happening with Joel,” Bettman said. “If-and-when there is a conversation to be had, I’ll focus on it at that time.”
• First-round schedule — Game 1: Game 2: @Florida 5, Washington 1; Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5*: Washington at Florida, May 11; Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15.