Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

With Lightning stable, Vinik eyes the future

Not long after Marty St. Louis was left off Canada's initial Olympic roster, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik met with Tampa Bay's captain to help soften hard feelings.

"I wouldn't say I was worried," Vinik said about friction between St. Louis and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who also is Team Canada's executive director. "But Marty was disappointed. He was very disappointed, obviously."

Vinik's message?

"I just reminded him how pleased I am to have him as part of the Lightning, that he's been a great player for us, a great leader. I told him how important he was to the franchise."

Reminded a fellow owner reportedly said Vinik also should send the St. Louis family on an expenses-paid trip, Vinik laughed. "I think I'd be breaking the rules of the (collective bargaining agreement) if I did that."

Vinik, 54, is in his fourth season as Tampa Bay's owner. With his family relocated to Tampa, charitable contributions, willingness to spend to the salary cap and plans to develop 20 acres around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, he has brought stability to a franchise whose future, as he said, "was in doubt" after two unhealthy seasons under the previous owners.

"I love it down here," Vinik said. "I love owning the team and it seems like I'm buying more real estate than I'm selling, so I guess I'm committed."

He even got to enjoy St. Louis being added to Canada's roster as a replacement for injured teammate Steven Stamkos.

"I couldn't be happier that he's over there," Vinik said.

Because of the St. Louis situation, do you have concerns about your general manager being part of the Olympic process?

I am so proud we have Steve Yzerman as executive director of Team Canada. It's great for Steve and our franchise that we have somebody who is so respected in the world of hockey. I can tell you one thing, there is nobody with more integrity. Tough decisions had to be made. He's the guy I'd want making those decisions when times get tough.

So you wouldn't mind him doing it again?

We'll see what happens in the future and we'll talk about it. But in general he's worked so hard and is such a big part of the game. He's getting to represent his country. How awesome is that?

Rate him as a GM.

A-plus. Day 1 we had a plan, Steve had a plan and knew it wasn't a quick fix here to get our team to be one of the tops in the league; draft well, develop our own talent and have great people in the organization. I believe Steve has built the best organization in the NHL. He has been consistent with his message and he's a man of very high integrity and one of the most respected people in the NHL, so he deserves that A-plus.

He has another year on his contract. Have you started talking about a new deal?

I don't think it's appropriate to talk about that, but from Day 1 I said I hope Steve's here as long as he was a player for the Red Wings, which was 20 years plus or minus. He's doing a great job and I'm 100 percent behind him.

Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn has said the team has lost as much as $30 million a season. Is that accurate?

I'm not going into specifics but we were losing money when we bought the team. Those losses have come down dramatically. I'm comfortable where things are at now and we've not been constrained by funds. We're spending at or near the cap because we want to have one of the best teams in the NHL year-in and year-out. We're definitely headed in the right direction.

So, you won't say how much the team is losing?

(laughing) Go ask Bob.

Does the team have to make money for you to be comfortable with the business model?

When I bought the team, this franchise was losing a lot of money. Its future was in doubt. I don't think there is any question about it. I want the Tampa Bay Lightning to be here for decades to come. That's my focus, to have a sustainable franchise and compete at the highest level and be major factors for good in the community, and maybe help develop Tampa a little bit."

Define sustainable.

Financially operating at or around break-even. If we operate at or around break-even, have one of the best hockey teams in the NHL year-in, year-out, provide our fans a great experience and be able to give back to the community in a meaningful way, I'd say that's a terrific scenario from my perspective.

What has been your biggest challenge?

In my previous career as a financial investment manager the stock market grades you every day. You get immediate results. Owning a hockey team, owning a business, employing 150 full-time people and hundreds of part-time people, to develop a culture takes time. To get the systems right takes time. To build the brand takes time. I have a new appreciation for how long it takes to build something world class.

What is the vision for your 20 acres around the Times Forum?

The most difficult thing about this process of master planning is the greatest opportunity. With a little imagination there are a number of options and opportunities here, whether it be residential and retail and entertainment and hotel. The other thing I would say is just because we haven't been public doesn't mean we aren't working very hard on this. I wouldn't confuse our deliberateness and quietness as not being very excited about the opportunity in front of us.

Does a new ballpark for the Rays fit in?

I stay out of (Rays owner Stu Sternberg's) business. There are a lot of moving parts there, so I'll let Stu Sternberg, who I greatly admire and respect, work that one out.

Still monitoring Channelside?

Oh, yeah. We think this whole area can be a great district and that includes Channelside mall. If it's us (as owner) we want to do a great job developing it. If it isn't we are hopeful whoever else is doing it does a great job.

How does real estate development compare to investing?

Investing in the stock market and analyzing and researching companies and world economic trends is very different than investing in real estate and developing real estate. I don't have much background in it or history in it. Much like when I bought the hockey team, try to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I spend a lot of time just reading and, like in hockey, hiring great people who have knowledge, who have experience who are A-plus character. That's the only formula I know for creating something that's, hopefully, really good.

Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the dynamic Lightning defenseman. They both were top-10 picks in 2016, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning defenseman.They both were picked in the top-10 of the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in three w...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s dreams are coming true

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s dreams are coming true

GLENDALE, Ariz — Nikita Kucherov’s toughest challenge isn’t facing Canadiens goalie Carey Price, or Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky.It comes in practice against Andrei Vasilevskiy. "I’ve been saying, I thought he was going to be the top goalie in the leag...
Published: 12/13/17
Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

ST. LOUIS — Tyler Johnson hasn’t played very much wing in his career, primarily sticking to his natural center position. But lately, Johnson has been stellar on the right side.Johnson’s assist in Tuesday’s win over the Blues extended his point streak...
Published: 12/13/17
Lightning opens road trip with shutout of Blues

Lightning opens road trip with shutout of Blues

ST. LOUIS — This showdown was supposed to be about the best team in the East versus the best in the West. In reality, the Lightning’s 3-0 win over the Blues on Tuesday night pretty much came down to this:Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalies ...
Published: 12/12/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Blues

Andrei Vasilevskiy might have made the save of the year. With the Lightning leading by one midway through the second, an Alex Steen dump-in took a wild carom off the boards. Vasilevskiiy somehow sprawled out for a right-toe save. Then, on his back, V...
Published: 12/12/17
Lightning face Blues in showdown between NHL’s top two teams

Lightning face Blues in showdown between NHL’s top two teams

The Lightning's west coast trip will start with a bang tonight in St. Louis.Tonight's game will pit the top two teams in the NHL, with Tampa Bay (21-6-2) atop the Eastern Conference, the Blues (21-8-2) the No. 1 team in the West.Fittingly, an NBCSN-a...
Published: 12/12/17
How Lightning coach Jon Cooper reinvented himself

How Lightning coach Jon Cooper reinvented himself

BRANDON — The best team in town had just wrapped up practice. The Lightning had a plane to catch, to St. Louis, where Tuesday in St. Louis begins a four-city road trip that ends at expansion Las Vegas, exclusive engagement, one show a night, unless y...
Published: 12/11/17
All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

TAMPA — You don’t often see a coach making shadow puppets on the wall with his hands at the start of his postgame news conference, but that’s where the Lightning is these days after sweeping a four-game home stand with Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime v...
Published: 12/10/17