For now, he is Oren Koules, Hollywood Guy.
In the world of hockey, it is not necessarily a compliment.
Whenever a new owner prepares to walk into an arena, there are always question marks waiting. In the case of Koules, there is also a lingering, possibly annoying perception. Yes, there are things for him to prove. Yes, there are things for him to disprove.
The purchase is all but done now. Koules has captured Lightning in a bottle (or, if you prefer, he has balanced it upon a Saw). True, the check still has to clear, which isn't exactly a small thing, but make no mistake about what Wednesday's unanimous approval by the NHL Board of Governors meant. From this point on, hockey in Tampa Bay is a Koules production.
Poor Koules. It is going to take some time before the guy can get away from the movie references, isn't it?
It doesn't matter how many buses he rode in junior hockey or how many miles or how many times he was poked in the face with a stick. From the time he became interested in owning a piece of the Lightning, he was the Hollywood Guy, the same as Bill Davidson was the Pistons Guy and Art Williams was the Insurance Guy and Takashi Okubo was, well, the Invisible Guy.
Let's face it. If you are on your way to a movie premiere, there is nothing wrong with being a Tinseltown player. Who doesn't want to do lunch with the famous? Who doesn't want to pose with the powerful? Deep down, don't we all think we would look positively splendid in the right sunglasses and the right sports car?
Around here, where the object is to go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there have been those who would dismiss, even deride, Koules because of his background in movies. After all, Hollywood is also known as a slick, shallow city. Isn't it the place where glitz outweighs grit and style matters more than substance? Isn't it a place for posers and pretenders and broken dreams?
Even for a movie producer, such a label can be a galling thing because it can overshadow a lifetime's worth of love for a sport. Besides, there is a more noble nickname to be earned.
Eventually, he will be judged as Oren Koules, Hockey Guy.
Let's face it. The movie stuff is interesting, but when is the last time you saw someone wearing a Jigsaw jersey? Or a Two and a Half Men cap?
Around here, what people think about Koules is going to be based on his acumen as a hockey owner.
So how does a man make the transition from Hollywood Guy to Hockey Guy? How does a new owner begin to prove himself?
In Tampa Bay, we have seen enough bad owners come and (thankfully) go to know that it doesn't matter what an owner says in his opening news conference. It's what he does over time. That said, the rest of the summer should provide some early clues as far as what kind of owner Koules will be.
First, there is the matter of a new coach to replace the fired John Tortorella. Okay, okay. By now, everyone knows it's going to be Barry Melrose. But once Melrose is announced, it will be up to Koules to convince everyone that his reasoning is solid. Koules and, of course, the standings. (The first round of the playoffs would make Koules look smart for hiring Melrose, the second round or deeper would make him look like a visionary.)
After that, the sooner Koules can get Vinny Lecavalier's name on a contract, the better. Put it this way: If Lecavalier is going to trust Koules with his career, that's going to be good enough for a lot of season-ticket holders.
Free agency, too, is going to be important for Koules. It isn't just that the Lightning needs the help (although it does). Anytime a new owner buys a team, fans always watch closely to see if he has any money left to spend. That said, Wednesday's trade for the rights to Vinny Prospal was a nice start. You would have to think Koules knew what kind of contract Prospal wanted before making such a trade, wouldn't you?
Along the way, Koules has to sell Koules, too. He has to restore a team's direction. He has to rebuild a minor-league system. He has to put a shattered Stanley Cup team back together.
Over time, Koules will have to prove he has the right amount of passion and the right amount of perspective. He will have to show he is wealthy enough to spend and wise enough to know where. He will have to be hungry enough, driven enough, smart enough. It would help if he were close to the cap. Also, close to the Cup.
After all, that's all Lightning fans have ever wanted in an owner.
Around here, the only thing they want to be produced is a winner.