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Tampa Bay Lightning veterans don't fault owner Jeff Vinik for lockout

Gary Bettman has been called an idiot by one player, and many others have heaped scorn on the NHL commissioner, whom players see as the bad guy of a lockout threatening to wipe out the season.

But Bettman is employed by the 30 owners, including Tampa Bay's Jeff Vinik. As such, he is carrying a message of which they apparently approve. And that brings up an interesting question. How do Lightning players feel about Vinik? How, if at all, do they separate him from the hard-line the league has taken in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement?

A check of some veterans after a recent skate at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon indicated — for now, at least — they have Vinik's back.

"Mr. Vinik has done so much for this community, it's two different things," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "I know for a fact not all the owners are involved in the process, so it never came to my mind to associate him with what's going on."

Said wing Marty St. Louis: "Because of everything he's done in the past few years, I have a hard time believing Mr. Vinik doesn't want to play."

It would be easy to say players are being careful because Vinik pays their salaries. But Vinik has built up some goodwill.

Unlike teams that reacted to the lockout by laying off employees and cutting salaries, Vinik did neither. That might change if the season is lost, but right now there are no such plans.

He has kept his commitment to donate $2.05 million through his Community Hero program, which distributes $50,000 to specific charities on days the Lightning was to play at home. And his $42 million renovation of the Tampa Bay Times Forum includes North America's largest center-hung scoreboard.

It also is believed Vinik is a moderate who won't mind the payroll reductions and expanded revenue sharing that will come with a new labor deal but also wants some sort of season to celebrate the organization's 20th anniversary and continue the effort to overcome the damage left by the previous owners.

Still, Vinik has been silent through the lockout, not that he has much choice given Bettman's threat of hefty fines for owners who speak to the media.

Even hard-liners — reporter Elliotte Friedman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. speculates they include owners from Boston, Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, Long Island, Washington, Dallas and St. Louis — have zipped their lips.

It is that gag order — and that Bettman changed the rules so he needs votes from only eight owners to continue the lockout — that keeps the onus on the commissioner.

"I'm not sure. Does he work for all the owners or just a couple?" wing Ryan Malone said. "Can all the owners come to meetings and talk to the media? Players can go to any (Players Association) meeting and talk to the media whether they're on our side or not."

Ultimately, though, Vinik is part of a group the league said voted unanimously for a lockout.

Even so, "I'm sure there are a lot of owners who want to play," St. Louis said. "I feel bad for Mr. Vinik. He's done a great job in this community, and right now it's all going backwards."

Tampa Bay Lightning veterans don't fault owner Jeff Vinik for lockout 12/01/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 7:50pm]
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