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Tampa Bay Lightning keeping Vinny Lecavalier might depend on getting investors

Vinny Lecavalier is set to make $10 million next season, about one-fourth of a payroll expected to be between 
$43 million to $45 million.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Vinny Lecavalier is set to make $10 million next season, about one-fourth of a payroll expected to be between $43 million to $45 million.

In the debate whether the Lightning should trade star center Vinny Lecavalier, Len Barrie's position is clear:

The co-owner wants him in a Tampa Bay uniform.

"He's a generational player," Barrie said Wednesday. "Why wouldn't you want a player like that?"

So a deal would have to be a clear win for him to get on board?

"I didn't say that," Barrie said. "I said he's a generational player. He's one of the top five players in the league when he's healthy. You never say never, but am I waiting for it? No."

It was an interesting exchange given one of the Lightning's main considerations before the June draft is whether to build around Lecavalier, 29, or remake the team with what the four-time All-Star could bring in a trade.

It seems a worthy discussion considering Lecavalier's 11-year, $85 million contract pays $10 million next season, about a quarter of an expected payroll of $43 million to $45 million.

But the equation could change if, as Barrie said, an investor or investors could be added to pay down a substantial portion of the $100 million OK Hockey owes on the $200 million purchase of the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5½ acres adjacent to the arena.

Another $30 million of working capital included in the loan pushed OK Hockey's up-front debt to $130 million, which it is believed requires about $10 million in annual interest payments. The company apparently is on time in making the payments.

Even so, OK Hockey has laid off about 30 employees since the season ended with the Lightning 29th in the 30-team league and average attendance down more than 2,000.

The company also is expecting about $14 million in league revenue sharing, which Barrie has said will not keep OK Hockey from operating in the red for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Given the numbers, Barrie said finding investors makes sense.

"If we put ourselves in a nondebt situation, what we're paying now in interest and fees can go into getting players instead of to the banks," he said.

Actually, OK Hockey owes previous owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, which shouldered 75 percent of the loan (about $97 million), and Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports investment firm.

Finding investors would seem difficult given the world economic situation, but Barrie said there have been "several" inquiries, none from the Tampa Bay area.

Barrie declined comment when asked if there was interest from a Dubai group he said is negotiating to buy his Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria, British Columbia.

If no investor is found?

"It just puts more pressure to play better or put more money into the team," Barrie said. "We just keep going. I don't think the team in Tampa is in jeopardy at all."

Asked if Koules, the team's principal owner, was on board with the investor search, Barrie said, "He's on board with it or we wouldn't be doing it."

Koules could not be reached for comment.

"We need to put good players around good players," Barrie said. "If we make two or three moves, shore up the defense, maybe add a forward, we're in pretty good shape."

Lemaire coming? The Lightning apparently wants ex-Wild coach Jacques Lemaire as a consultant.

"Anything can happen," Lemaire said from his Palmetto home. "It could be Tampa. It could be Florida. I'd like to work with an Eastern team."

Lemaire, 63, who stepped down after Minnesota finished out of the playoffs, is one of the game's greats with 366 goals, 835 points and eight Stanley Cups in 12 seasons with the Canadiens. Before spending eight seasons with the Wild, he coached the Devils for five, winning the 1995 Stanley Cup, and the Canadiens for two.

"I'm talking to a few teams," Lemaire said. "I don't know where I'm going to end up or what I'm going to do. I'm going to find what's comfortable."

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

Tampa Bay Lightning keeping Vinny Lecavalier might depend on getting investors 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 10:34pm]
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