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New Lightning owners Koules, Barrie make good first impression

Given the choice, it is better to have an owner who risks too much passion than one who has none at all.

Given the choice, it is preferable to have a hands-on owner rather than one who has both of his hands wrapped around his wallet.

Given the choice, it is better to debate whether an owner might have overspent than to question one who will not spend at all.

All of that said, Oren Koules certainly knows how to say hello, doesn't he?

Koules, the new owner of the Lightning, stepped up to the microphone for the first time Monday, and pretty much, he hit every note. He came across as confident and eager, as knowledgeable and ambitious, as passionate and bright. Put it this way: If pro sports ownership was an elected office, you would approve of his inaugural address.

Of course, now Koules and his partners face the hard part:

They have to prove themselves.

By now, Tampa Bay has been through enough of these ownership introductions to know the way they work. In an initial news conference, everyone sounds the same. The new guy always grins and promises better days and casually mentions the word "playoffs" a half-dozen times or so, and the guys in the back of the room always applaud. If you remember, even Art Williams was fun for most of an afternoon.

In other words, it is impossible to draw conclusions after a first meeting. In the years to come, what you think about Koules' group won't be because of what he said. It will be because of what he does.

With that disclaimer in mind, the previews looked pretty good, didn't they?

You get the feeling Koules won over some skeptics Monday. For weeks, as he was silenced by the league, there were those who dismissed him because of the infighting with the Doug MacLean group and those who doubted him because of his Hollywood background.

If you were among those who carried a mental checklist into Koules' opening statement, however, you probably liked what you heard.

Location? Check. According to Koules, the possible relocation of the Lightning franchise was a nasty bit of misinformation that spread. There was never anything to it, he said. "We will never move this team," Koules said, his hand softly pounding the table for emphasis. "I hate Vegas."

Free agency? Check. According to Koules, his group will be "staggeringly active" in free agency. By "staggering," we can assume, he wants to sign a free agent or two who are so impressive that maybe even Bill Davidson will have heard of him. Koules says he wants to place those free agents on the second line with No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos. "We aren't going to put Stamkos out there on his own."

Retaining assets? Check. The NHL won't allow any announcements until July, but Koules gives off the impression that Vinny Lecavalier's re-signing isn't far away. And partner Len Barrie talked about Lecavalier playing in Tampa Bay for a decade.

Financial stability? Check. The Lightning will still be a budget team, which means it isn't likely to spend to the cap. Still, Barrie said, "our goal is to win."

The coach? Check. The Lightning will announce Barry Melrose today. Try to act surprised, won't you? It's the worst-kept secret since J. Edgar Hoover and the prom dress.

The No. 1 draft pick? Here's the best thing about Monday. Koules got through his entire news conference without comparing Stamkos to Kobe Bryant. Good thing. When Williams compared Lecavalier to Michael Jordan in his first news conference, it didn't do anyone any good.

To sum up, yeah, there is a difference to this ownership group. For one thing, it knows hockey. For another, it likes hockey. Williams always gave you the idea he would rather be at a football game. Davidson gave you the idea he would rather be watching basketball. And with Kokusai Green, well, they were the guys who liked sake more than hockey.

Looking at Koules and Barrie, the differences were obvious. The previous owners of the Lightning were businessmen who looked the part. These two look like linemates who had just tumbled off the bus in Medicine Hat for a game. Both wore sports coats, but both wore jeans. Neither one of them wore a tie.

As owners go, they will be involved. Barrie says that, yes, there's "a Mark Cuban quality" to Koules. In a world with Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones, maybe that will make you a little nervous. But after all the years of owners being uninvolved, it could be a good thing.

It's funny. Already, you can hear people wonder if the team paid too much for Vinny Prospal's new deal. You can hear them debate which free agents the team should pursue.

From here, it sounds like the beginning of an interesting ride.

What kind of owners will these guys be? We'll see.

New Lightning owners Koules, Barrie make good first impression 06/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 1:10pm]
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