Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik: "We're going to be an excellent hockey team"
New Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik talked for about 15 minutes with the St. Petersburg Times while discussing the firings of GM Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet. He hit several other topics such as what he has learned about the team and the area since he bought the team in early March, and what he wants for the organization going forward. As you can imagine, a lot has to get left out in the confined space of a newspaper article. Here is the complete interview:
SP TIMES: What was your thought process that made you fire the GM and coach?
The number one factor is, I really think it’s very important for this organization, on the hockey side, in order to achieve my vision of being world class, to have a fresh start. To me, organizational structure is very important, chain of command. And I want an organization in place where everybody has the same values, everybody has the same vision, all oars going in the same direction to make the whole organization world class.
SP TIMES: How did they fall short?
This isn’t anything negative personally about Brian or Rick. This is no indictment of the job that they’ve done. To me, thinking about my vision and what needed to be done to accomplish that, we really needed to start from scratch on the hockey side and put the team in place. To have that whole chain of command in place from scratch was the best way to accomplish being world class. It’s not unusual for a new owner to make changes in an organization, and with my vision, my focus and what I thought needed to be accomplished, there was no question in my mind that starting from scratch was the best way to accomplish that. There’s nothing that happened on the ice, off the ice, etcetera. There’s nothing that happened in particular that affected my decision. It’s something that I thought that needed to be done.
SP TIMES: So, if there had been more on-ice success, your decision would have been different?
It's hard to speculate on that. The events that have happened, have happened. This is the direction we felt we needed to go.
SP TIMES: There was a report in the Minneapolis paper that Lawton wanted to trade Zenon Konopka for Derek Boogaard, but the details were botched and the trade never went through. What can you tell us about that?
I saw the headline. I know very little about that. It had no effect on our decision.
SP TIMES: How is the CEO search going?
Ongoing. I’m very optimistic we will hire a world class CEO. We had a lot of great resumes cross our desk and a lot of great interviews. I’m optimistic in 30 to 60 days we will have a great CEO in place.
SP TIMES: What needs to be done on-ice to make this a better team?
Not my decision on that one. My job is to get the right CEO in place who will have the right general manager and right head coach, so they all will be be world class and know what needs to be done as soon as possible.
SP TIMES: But you're a hockey fan. You have an opinion.
I think there's a lot of great talent downstairs that can make us a successful hockey team, and my job is to put the structure in place so they can perform as well as they can perform. But I think the future is great. I want to bring a Stanley Cup here. I want to do it as soon as possible.
SP TIMES: How close are you?
I want to win this year. We want to be as good as we can be every year. It's hard to know the time frame, but sooner is better than later.
SP TIMES: What qualities do you want your CEO, GM and coach to have?
I want them to have the vision for the organization of excellence. I want them to have the values that I have, that I expect my CEO to have: hard work, integrity, respect for one another, diligence, professionalism. I want that to be instilled in everybody and in the whole organization, and not only on the hockey side. The best way to get that is from me having that and hiring a CEO who believes strongly in the same things as well as the GM and coach.
SP TIMES: After two and a half years of upheaval, how important is it to bring calm to the organization?
In an ideal environment, despite distractions, despite stuff going on, it's extremely important to be in an environment where the players are solely focused on winning hockey games.
SP TIMES: What did you tell the players?
We need a fresh start. I talked about organizational structure and how that is going to work. And with this organizational structure there, they will be able to focus purely on hockey so this team can be as great as it can be.
SP TIMES: Did they ask any questions?
No, they did not. I don’t say that many words, but I think my message was pretty clear.
SP TIMES: How did Tocchet react to the news?
He was great. He listened. And Brian was great, too. They couldn’t have been more professional. They both listened. They both understood the direction I was headed here. Both were extremely professional about it.
SP TIMES: Did you seek any input from players before making your decision to fire them?
I give players their space. I’m not going to ask them that question. I may read what's in the papers, but I really think it's important to let them have their privacy and their territory. It’s not my job to affect with what goes on in the locker room.
SP TIMES: What have you learned since you bought the team?
The most exciting part of what I learned is how much people care here, and, within the organization, love working for the Lightning, and how much they love hockey. That enthusiasm has been great to hear. The other part is I've watched a lot of hockey games and I'm confident we’re going to be an excellent team in the future. We can all sense that.