Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Tom Jones spoke with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik on the eve of the Lightning’s playoff opener.
How excited are you as the playoffs get under way?
It’s Christmas. It’s the best time of year. There’s nothing like playoff hockey. It’s the best thing. And when our team is a part of it, it’s even better than the best thing.
They say that good organizations start at the top with good ownership. What is your ownership philosophy?
Hire great people. Give them the resources they need to be successful. Let them do their thing without interfering. And hold them accountable at the end of the day.
Is there an owner or ownership group that you model your style after?
I have a lot of respect for all the Boston teams, certainly. And I know the people there better than other areas and how they operate. There are several organizations around the NHL, but my philosophy in the stock market and here is I kind of watch what we’re doing. I don’t pay attention to what others are doing. You try to learn, but you kind of put blinders on and do the best we can.
You have so much going on in the community, can you put a percentage on how much time you spend on hockey and how much you dedicate to everything else you have going on?
I (can) because … I’m always trying to figure out how to be more efficient with my time. So I have done that exercise recently. I would say hockey is no more than 25 percent of my time, excluding watching games. I watch games every night, so that’s a ton of time. I would say 25 percent. That’s meeting with (Lightning president) Steve Griggs and meeting with (general manager) Steve Yzerman, getting involved with some strategic decisions occasionally. But mainly it’s just meeting with people in the community and just building our brand and keeping people informed with what we’re doing.
The Rays are potentially going to build a stadium in Ybor City. What do you think of that?
I’m maintaining my posture for many years on the Rays, and that’s I respect the organization quite a bit. I like (Rays owner) Stu (Sternberg). But I stay out of their business and let them do what they think is best. Whether it’s there or some other location, I sure hope they’re here for a long time.
Can three professional major sports teams work in Tampa Bay?
I think it’s a challenge in 2018, but I think this economy will grow into it. So, yes.
Back to the playoffs. How do you watch the games? Tell us about your process. Are you a nervous watcher? Are you a screamer?
(Laughs) No, I’m not a screamer. I’m relatively calm. The last time in the playoffs, it gets to Game 6 and that’s when you start getting a little nervous. Like, really intense situations, Game 6, going into overtime or something like that, it can become uncomfortably nervous. But I love every minute of it.
Do you watch with other people?
Do you talk during the game?
No. When the puck is in play, we do not talk. My favorite part of the job is going to games. I don’t entertain during games. I don’t socialize during games. I’ll do it before. I’ll do it between periods. But I’m the owner. I can actually watch the games.
Didn’t you watch a playoff game from the stands a few years ago in Detroit?
I do it a lot. The seats are better if you sit in the stands. Nobody knows who I am. So I probably do it a half-dozen times a year on the road.
Who is the best fan in your family besides you?
Let’s put it this way: Jared, my second-oldest son (who is 25), almost got into a fight with an Islanders fan two years ago. Put it that way.
That made it into the locker room. (Lightning coach Jon Cooper) used that in the locker room with the players!