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Tampa Bay Lightning in good financial shape, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says

TAMPA — For the record, commissioner Gary Bettman said, the Lightning should not be part of any conversation about Sun Belt teams facing financial challenges.

"Fans here have nothing to worry about," he said Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "The team is well-owned, well-capitalized, is being well-run. The future is bright."

Not that anyone was worried. Owner Jeff Vinik recently outlined a $35 million renovation of the Times Forum and committed $10 million over five years to local charities.

But with financial troubles in Phoenix, Dallas, Florida and Atlanta, and a recent rumor in Seattle the Lightning might move there, it never hurts to instill confidence.

So in a response to a question about the Thrashers' future, Bett­man broadened his point.

"I never like people to get worried," he said. "I never like people to get their expectations raised. Some of this gets fed by, 'If they lose the team, maybe we get the team.' And we don't like to buy into that. There have been stories over the years about this franchise, and it's not fair to the fans."

Bettman, who tries to visit every venue at least once during a season, said he is "thrilled and delighted" with the direction of the franchise under Vinik.

He called the upcoming renovations to the building and the logo and uniform redesign "terrific." He called the hiring of CEO Tod Leiweke and GM Steve Yzerman "first-class terrific."

"This shows what someone with resources and commitment can do when his commitment is to making this the best possible, first-class organization and building there is," Bettman said. "The verdict is (Vinik has) been extraordinarily effective."

FAVORITES: The Red Wings should be considered the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

"I look at their team, and there are not many flaws out there," he said. "I think they're the team to beat in the league again."

What makes Detroit dangerous? "They've played together a long time, and that's extremely important," Boucher said. "They're in synch. There's very little hesitation in their game."

DEAR MIKE: Boucher said he and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock are "not best friends or anything." But Boucher, after he got the Lightning job, called his fellow McGill University alumnus for advice.

"He loves to share; (he is) a very generous and smart guy," Boucher said.

"The problem is I coach against him and I can't pick his brain anymore."

Boucher was about 10 years behind Babcock at McGill in Montreal. But Babcock, like Boucher, an NHL coach who never played in the league, was a role model. Now Boucher calls him a mentor.

"I can't have more respect for him than I do," Boucher said.

ODDS AND ENDS: D Victor Hedman's goal was his first in 32 games. … C Nate Thompson played after missing three games with concussionlike symptoms. … D Randy Jones played despite what is believed to be a sore back. … D Matt Smaby and LW Johan Harju were scratched. … Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay Lightning in good financial shape, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says 02/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 12:15am]

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