For good of the team, it's time for the Tampa Bay Lightning to fill positions at the top

It probably is too harsh to say the Lightning has steered without a rudder since the April 12 firing of general manager Brian Lawton. But it is not too harsh to say the recent storm over whether to pay for Stephane Veilleux’s surgery is a good example of why new owner Jeff Vinik needs to finally hire a new GM and chief executive officer.

If nothing else, the hires would lay out a vision for the organization, and would put people in place to make buck-stops-here decisions. Whether you agree or disagree with the Lightning’s position on Veilleux – it balked at paying to repair injuries to his right shoulder the team believed were not hockey related – the public-relations nightmare might have been avoided and the disruption mitigated had those positions been settled.

For example, before Veilleux’s agent Allan Walsh began his media and Twitter blitz to shame Tampa Bay into paying, a general manager could have put Walsh on notice the team was capable of playing hardball, too, with whatever information it has about Veilleux. Instead of a committee trying to decide whether to pay for Veilleux’s surgery – a group that probably included assistant general manager Tom Kurvers, who has never been a full-time GM; team medical director Ira Guttentag, lawyers and other executives – there would have been one strong, final voice.

To be fair, Vinik is not a hockey guy, and it is unclear if he was even involved on the front-end discussions, though he surely was briefed about the decision to cover through a worker’s comp insurance claim what Walsh estimated was the $15,000 cost of the surgery that took place May 13. But considering Vinik is desperately trying to overcome the perception the team was dysfunctional the past two years under former owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, he did not need the public-relations nightmare or Walsh and the NHL Players Association threatening to file a grievance.

Overcoming that perception is crucial to bringing back a dwindling fan base and to build trust among players who want to know Vinik has their backs. On the day Vinik fired Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet, he said he wanted a CEO and general manager in place in 30 to 60 days. He is in that window. It’s time to get it done.

Here’s the recap:

For the GM job, it generally is believed it was Steve Yzerman’s if he wanted it. But the Red Wings vice president has spent 27 years with Detroit and the prevailing wisdom is he likely will stay there, though that has not been confirmed. It is believed Tampa Bay also has interviewed former Flames GM Doug Risebrough, Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall, and NBC and TSN analyst Pierre McGuire. Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton was thought in the mix but he denied he has been contacted. And Predators director of hockey operations Mike Santos wants to be a candidate but says he has not spoken to anyone with the team.

The CEO position seems more muddled and there is a school of thought that says with the draft looming the team will name a GM before filling that position. Tod Leiweke, CEO of the NFL’s Seahawks, says he is not a candidate, but there are those who still believe he is the front-runner. Former Senators president Roy Mlakar has said he wants the job. Former Lightning executives Ron Campbell and Sean Henry might be considered. Dana Warg, president of Olympia Entertainment in Detroit, was believed to have been a consideration, but he, too, said he has not been contacted.

[Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 12:15am]

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