SAN JOSE -- Since Gary Bettman took over as NHL commissioner in 1993, only two other cities have hosted an NHL All-Star Game as frequently as San Jose.
Montreal had it just days into Bettman's tenure, and Los Angeles hosted in 2002 and 2017. This weekend, the Sharks joined that exclusive club.
"San Jose and the Sharks have been incredible hosts," Bettman said Friday. "It's a thrill to be a part of this."
NBC Sports California spoke with Bettman on a variety of other topics in a quick 1-on-1 interview ahead of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition. Here's the full conversation with Bettman at SAP Center.
NBC Sports California: The NHL is getting a team in Seattle in the very near future [the 2021-22 season]. How has San Jose served as a catalyst for the growth of hockey on the West Coast?
When the Sharks first became a part of the scene in San Jose, hockey was in its infancy in Northern California. And by being a part of the community, and by being a franchise with stability and continuous presence both on and off the ice, a lot of fans emerged. Hockey became a part of the scene. Grassroots programs developed, and the Sharks are as much a fixture in San Jose as anything else.
Part of the reason the Sharks are such a fixture is because of players like Joe Thornton. How much has he meant to the game of hockey?
Joe has been an incredible force in the NHL throughout his wonderful career. San Jose fans have been lucky to be able to see him and appreciate him for as long as they have. But it also starts one step removed: [Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson has been a constant for virtually the entire history of this franchise, and I think the stability he provides for this team on the ice is one of the key ingredients for success.
What can you say about Wilson’s impact in San Jose -- first on the ice as a player, and now as an executive?
Doug couldn’t be a better representative of our game on and off the ice. As an executive, he is a consummate professional, and he is somebody who I’ve been dealing with since my earliest days in the NHL. He’s honorable, he has integrity, he’s smart and he’s passionate about the game.
What do you remember about some of those early interactions?
Well, he was president of the players’ association then. So, not as good as our later interactions (laughs).
Now looking ahead to next year, you mentioned on Friday the NHL will play in Germany next year. The Sharks are owned by Hasso Plattner, who’s known around Germany. How much of a possibility are the Sharks?
We’re not talking about dates or teams yet in Europe, but there will be some games. So, stay tuned.
Along those lines and looking forward: The Sharks have been at SAP Center for 25 years, but there could be a lot of changes coming to the area surrounding the arena. What are the NHL’s thoughts on those possible changes?
Well, this arena has been a vital part of the emergence of San Jose as a major city. The city wasn’t nearly as large or as vibrant when the Sharks first got here at SAP Center as it is now, and we all know how important an arena and a team are to the economics of a community, to the soul and vibrancy of a community.
As things continue to develop and San Jose grows, when focus is placed upon projects like BART [expanding into San Jose] or even Google moving to the area, I hope everything’s done to protect the ease of access to this building. Because it would really be a shame for the Sharks, this arena, and most importantly the fans if it didn’t work as well as it’s been working.
You mentioned your history with Doug Wilson --
My tongue was in my cheek!
Fair enough. But there was a very optimistic tone on Friday from you and NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider. For Sharks fans who are looking toward the future of the CBA, what’s your message to them about things moving forward?
Well, first of all, the simplest thing I can say is we’re not looking for a fight. We’d like long-term stability, and we think the game has never been in better shape. We want to take where we are, and use it as an opportunity to continue to grow the game.
How much of that growth do you want to continue here and on the West Coast? We’re starting to see more and more players from these areas, like Auston Matthews.
I want it everywhere.
More on the 2019 NHL All-Star Game
Four takeaways from Bettman's Friday press conference
How Matthews pulled off an All-Star Marleau tribute
All-Stars in awe of Coyne Schofield in fastest skater event
Stanley Cup keeper shares travels, San Jose experience
Watch Burns, Pavelski's sons team up on sweet goal