Jeffrey Vinik Appears To Be Tampa Bay Lightning's Real Deal

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIFebruary 6, 2010

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27: Vincent Lecavalier #4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his second period goal against the Montreal Canadiens at the St. Pete Times Forum on January 27, 2010 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When rumors of his take over began to surface, Tampa Bay Lightning fans looked on nervously.

One rumor said that legendary Boston Hedge fund manager Jeffrey Vinik would only buy the Lightning if the team traded away the huge contract of Vincent Lecavalier, the face of the franchise for over a decade.

Later, Vinik told Bob McKenzie of TSN that he was "mortified at the thought."

Plus one, Mister Vinik.

The more we find out about the 50-year old family man with a reported net worth of $515 million the more we like him.

He reportedly paid cash for the team. Cash, folks.

No robbing Peter to pay Paul. No borrowing money from the previous owners to complete the transaction. No hoping your resort in Canada turns into a cash cow so you can contribute your half of the money. No wishing your next horror movie has a boffo box office return. No partners. No banks. No investing in the land and arena with the team being something to fill it with.

Most importantly, no struggling to find the funds to make payroll.

Plus two, Mister Vinik.

Since the "cowboys" as coined by former Lightning coach John Tortorella, Oren Koules and Len Barrie, turned into the Hatfields and the McCoys, the franchise has been in a tailspin.

The previous regime came in and traded away two of its most beloved and best players, then signed a bunch of huge deals that put the franchise into a financial lurch to "show the fans they know hockey."

Newsflash Oren, you didn't. It's not all Koules fault though. They would have been fine if Len Barrie hadn't left him high and dry, never coming up with his side of the benjamins.

Instead, Koules and the other minor investors were left struggling with the $208 million dollar debt service while Barrie moved around the NHL draft room making comments about saving Vincent Lecavalier from being traded.

It got about as dysfunctional and ugly as it could get folks, with the fans of the franchise caught in the cross fire.

Vinik grew up loving the sport of hockey, falling asleep at night listening to Ranger games. He knows what once was here.

After their Stanley Cup year, the Tampa Bay Lightning were among the highest attended games in the NHL, better than many major hockey hotbeds, and rising to it's zenith at No. 2 overall (in 2006) behind only the Montreal Canadiens.

This is a market that can support this hockey franchise...but it's also a hockey market that has been burned repeatedly by bad ownership.

From the mysterious Japanese company Kokusai Green Co. Ltd., to the "motivational speaker" Art Williams, to the thrifty "Dollar" Bill Davidson, to the "Cowboys" Oren and Len, it's been one frustration after another for Lightning fans.

Only under Davidson did the franchise thrive and his steadfast clutch on the almighty dollar had the team in the black for the first time in franchise history.

Still, they didn't hesitate to move the Lightning out when the economy went in the tank.

So Lightning fans are hopeful, yet skeptical. Is this guy going to stay with us for the long haul? Is he looking at the Lightning as an investment that he's just going to dump to someone else?

Vinik says no.

"My business is my business, and I enjoy it. I'm a money manager, and that's terrific," he said, "But this ownership is going to be myself … and I'm going to control it 100 percent. I make investments at work. I don't want to make investments here. I wanted something fun to do. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to buy a hockey team.' I love the sport. I'd love to be an owner of a business. I have a passion for it. It's exciting."

Plus three, Mister Vinik.

He said the Tampa Bay area has growth potential once the economy bounces back and there is a "track record here of fans caring about the team."

"I understand there is a degree of skepticism," he said, "but my mission is to accomplish what I'm setting out for day by day, month by month, year by year, so you can judge me over time. My comments are genuine, my interest sincere. I will do everything in my power to bring a world-class organization to the community, both on the ice and off the ice. I am going to put the resources forth that are necessary to making this a successful organization."

Vinik plans to eventually relocate his wife and four kids.

"We want to buy a house here as soon as possible," Vinik said, "I'll be a big part of the community."

Could it be after nearly two decades the Tampa Bay Lightning finally have an owner that not only can support the hockey club financially but has the same passion as the fans do - an owner that wants to win?

We can only hope. One thing is certain, the OK Hockey era was not even mediocre and it nearly destroyed this franchise. Overpaying for the team in a bad economy was a doomed transaction. If reports are correct and the purchase price for Vinik is just $110 million, the "Cowboys" just took a $94 million loss.

Considering the team hasn't made the playoffs the last two years and struggled to make payroll, in the end it's probably a lot more for Oren Koules. I'd expect a bevy of lawsuits when it's all said and done.

Meanwhile, Vinik appears on the surface to be the kind of guy who can bring the Lightning back to the level the once had.

The kind a guy the Lightning fans have been waiting for two decades to find.

Time will tell if he is truly that guy or the next Art Williams.


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