Lightning committed to staying in Tampa

Oren Koules and Len Barrie certainly sounded like they are on the same page, and at one point Sunday, spoke the same line at the same time.

Asked if they had any intention of moving the Lightning out of Tampa, the primary investors in OK Hockey, which seems set to take control of the team June 30, said in harmony:

"It's not even an option."

That will be music to the ears of Tampa Bay fans, who have watched for almost 11 months while owner Palace Sports & Entertainment tried to unload the team and wondered if OK Hockey, which is paying $200-million for the franchise, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 51/2 nearby acres in Tampa, would commit to the community.

For the first time, Koules and Barrie, released from the gag order imposed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, did so on the record.

"This is a lifetime investment, a family long thing" Barrie said. "Nothing else for both of us."

Koules, the Hollywood producer responsible for the grisly Saw movies, and Barrie, a former NHLer turned developer in Victoria, British Columbia, will say the same thing today when the entire ownership group is announced at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"It's going to be the first thing we address," Koules said.

It was the first topic among several in a 10-minute phone call.

• Neither denied Barry Melrose will be the new head coach. And given OK Hockey's urge to hit the ground running, the sport's worst-kept secret could be announced as soon as today, though an official introduction is not expected.

• Koules said the financial deal could already have closed but will wait for June 30 because that is the final day of the fiscal year, which makes the books easier to transfer.

• Koules and Barrie had lunch Sunday in Montreal with Vinny Lecavalier to keep up momentum on the apparently progressing contract negotiations. Asked when the All-Star center's extension will be announced, Koules said, "Vinny bought (lunch). That should give you a clue."

• Koules said general manager Jay Feaster would "fit in" with the management team but would not be specific about how the front office will be structured.

• He said the organization will be "really, really active" in free agency."

Most of the conversation, though, was about how Koules and Barrie want to be perceived by the fans. Koules said their message will be about "accountability and accessibility."

He said there will be an e-mail account on which fans can ask him and Barrie questions. He said they will walk through the stands between periods.

Barrie said he and Koules are looking to buy homes in the Tampa area. Koules has said he wants to walk to games with fans.

"We'll both be around the rink a lot," Koules said. "It's not like we're going to be behind some glass shields."

"We've got some of the best fans in the league," said Barrie, who reiterated the team is not moving. "I love this area. Look at the arena, look at the city, look at the weather. Give me a break."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Lightning committed to staying in Tampa 06/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 4:41pm]

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