“It’s not news to anybody that the Dome is not high on the list of places to play,” said Flames defenceman Michael Stone
Michael Stone isn’t going to say a bad word about the Saddledome.
It’s where he spent his junior career with the Calgary Hitmen and it’s been his home for most of the time he’s been in the NHL.
But even Stone knows a new arena is essential for the Calgary Flames.
“It’s not news to anybody that the Dome is not high on the list of places to play,” Stone said Tuesday. “I think this city is awesome and there’s a reason I’m still here and I think a new arena is just going to benefit everybody, in my opinion.
“I mean, I grew up in the Dome. I love the Dome, but I can also recognize its faults and that we need some upgrades.”
Stone was speaking moments after it was announced that there were agreements-in-principle in place between the City of Calgary, provincial government, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. and the Calgary Stampede for a new arena and a “culture and entertainment district.”
There’s more to the project than just the arena, to be sure, and there will be inevitable debates about the hefty price tag, especially in Edmonton, where they received no provincial funding for the construction of Rogers Place.
But from the perspective of the guys who actually suit up for the Flames, replacing the aging Saddledome is vital. That’s something defenceman MacKenzie Weegar brought up unprompted in his end-of-year media availability, and as fellow blueliner Nikita Zadorov made clear Tuesday, Weegar’s not alone in feeling that way.
“It’s gonna help the organization bring new players, free agents, for sure,” Zadorov said. “There’s probably some talk around the league about whether people want to play here or not because of the … building or the organization and how they spent their money, so they’re definitely showing that they’re willing to do anything to build a great team here and a great organization.”
While the breakdown of who is paying for what will surely be debated intensely in the coming weeks and months, there can’t be much argument about whether the Flames would be well served to be playing in a more modern arena. They would.
The Saddledome is a relic of another time. The only arenas older than it in the NHL have received huge facelifts over the years and have far more modern amenities, for both players and fans.
That makes a difference for the players who go to work at the arena every day.
“The Dome has been nice, but going to different arenas and different cities and seeing how nice their new ones are, you kind of get a little jealous,” said Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane. “It’s exciting. It’s good for the Flames and it’s good for all of Calgary.
“The Saddledome might not be the best selling point, but obviously a new arena with new everything, it’s appealing.”
There are other benefits for hockey fans beyond players potentially finding Calgary more appealing as a destination for free agents. Flames president and CEO John Bean said Tuesday that according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the new arena will put Calgary back in the rotation for hosting the league’s draft and all-star game.
Presumably, there will be more shows and concerts, while the district surrounding the new rink should serve as a community hub.
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And inside the arena? The Flames will be looking at what works best around the league. Expect the facilities in Detroit and Edmonton to be examined closely.
If they need any suggestions, Stone’s got a few.
“You want, for me, it would be space on the concourse as a fan and as a player it’s space on the event level,” Stone said. “I also think certain buildings build out instead of up, but as a player I like them up, because you feel like the fans are more involved.”
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