Monday, June 23, 2008

The circus is in Tampa

"Oren and I are 50/50 on control," Barrie said yesterday, looking more rock star than NHL owner with spiky, gelled hair, an open shirt and a heavy gold chain around his neck. "I can tell you we didn't get into this to drink wine and sit in a luxury box."

Stories of Barrie and Koules calling other NHL teams directly to discuss player moves, with Lightning GM Jay Feaster left to figure out the details, are already popular gossip topics in hockey circles. They've brushed the mothballs off Barry Melrose to come in as head coach and former NHLer Wes Walz, a Barrie buddy, has been hired as an assistant coach. Names from Brian Lawton to Rick Tocchet have been linked to the club and Barrie might be appointed team president.
What a nightmare for fans in Tampa Bay, four years removed from the team's lone Stanley Cup championship and with just four players remaining from that club.

Producer Oren Koules, former NHLer Len Barrie and six other partners (two from the Tampa area) are going to be introduced during a press conference Monday morning at the St. Pete Times Forum, with June 30, next Monday, as the close date on their purchase of the team.

A team release on Sunday said "the new ownership group is stepping forward to introduce its vision for the team, the arena and the property," which should be interesting in and of itself.

We've certainly seen NHL owners exert influence over their franchises in the past, and it's very much become old hat in pro sports circles in recent years. What we haven't seen in hockey, and definitely not to this extent, is a young, brash group like this muscle in with money and begin putting its fingers in the pie.

Feaster's background isn't that of a hockey man, and I wonder if that's part of the reason we haven't heard a peep from him as this potential fiasco unfolds. I can't imagine that Brian Burke, or others of his ilk, would stand pat while essential parts of his job — such as selecting a coach — are being bungled by amateurs.

Feaster's a very smart man, and has accomplished some incredible things coming from a legal background beginning with Hershey Bears parent organization in the AHL many moons ago. He essentially fought to keep Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa during the Rick Dudley era when the then-GM was close to shipping the face of the franchise out of town, and when Dudley walked in February of 2002, Feaster inherited a mess of a team.

A little more than two years later, the Lightning won a championship.

At 45, Feaster is still a relatively young executive and would be much in demand if things get goofier in Tampa Bay.

That possibility seems to be rising by the day.

There are rumours floating around of a "lifetime" deal for Lecavalier, one that would dwarf Alex Ovechkin's contract in terms of a cap hit and become the new standard in boat anchor salaries. At that point, this team would have close to $23-million dedicated to three veterans going forward, with very little indication this new ownership eightsome will be able to foot the bill for more than the $46.5-million the Lightning spent on its roster this season.

As for Feaster, Koules told the St. Petersburg Times yesterday that he would "fit in" with the new regime's management structure, making his role sound like that of the awkward red head on his first day at a new school.

For their part, Koules and Barrie have had a pretty sunny disposition so far, mentioning that, during the season, "they will walk through the stands between periods."

That could change if things get ugly in the standings, something that's tough to forecast for sure until we see what they pull off in free agency. Given its current makeup, this franchise could sink like a stone.

Here's the money quote from outgoing Lightning president Ron Campbell on Koules:
"He is going to be so much fun. He could be a Mark Cuban type of guy from the standpoint that he's going to have a lot of crazy ideas, out of the box ideas."
We're seeing some of them already.

UPDATE Here's a Q&A with the new owners.
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17 Comments:

At 2:52 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

That could change if things get ugly in the standings, something that's tough to forecast for sure until we see what they pull off in free agency.

Not really all that hard to forecast. A shallow, top-heavy defensive corps, mixed with a shallow, top heavy group of forwards (only 7 of whom are under contract for next year), a prospect pool that is underwhelming at best, a starting goaltender who went 3-10 after joining the team at the deadline, backed up by either a not ready for prime-time Kari Rammo or a 3M/yr boat anchor in Marc Denis. This collection is to be coached by a guy who hasn't been behind the bench in a decade, and who will be assisted by an ex-player who has never coached and another coach who just returned to the league after a gambling suspension. Than, just to add icing to the cake, an under-funded partnership that wants to meddle in every player personnel decision is the ownership group. The team is going nowhere, and they're going to get there as fast as possible.

 
At 3:15 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous royal colwood said...

Like trees on a golf course, these are now the days of your lives.

 
At 7:23 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stamkos should pull a Lindros and Vinny should call Mario about signing a lifetime deal with an underfunded owner.

 
At 8:05 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Then again, Jon, it is the Southeast Division.

They're probably doomed, but maybe they buy up some pieces in free agency after camping out on players' lawns.

 
At 8:19 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous baroque said...

Do they have some kind of ice girls yet?

Camping out on players' lawns ... and we all know that stalking is so attractive!

 
At 9:21 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Kevin Forbes said...

I remember reading an article on Len Barrie's after-hockey business dealings in the Globe & Mail's Report on Business Magazine a couple months back (April maybe?).
Very interesting, he's definitely a risk taker and not your normal suit and tie businessman.

 
At 9:24 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Kevin Forbes said...

Here's that article I was referring to:

Link

It's worth a read if anyone is interested.

 
At 10:10 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

OK: "We are probably going to be in certain players' backyards with a tent, seriously, the day of. The day the clock strikes we will probably be at their home. And I don't want that written because I don't want anybody stealing our ideas. But we are serious, we are seriously talking about doing that."

Wow. That's gold, James. Pure gold.

 
At 10:35 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

Boy, it's a good thing the NHL doesn't have a disreputable guy like Jim Balsillie owning one of their clubs. Camping on player's lawns - nice! Clearly the new Lightning ownership subscribes to the theory that, "Restraining Orders are Just Another Way of Saying I Love You."

What's the over/under on this ownership group? I'll say 18 months - by Christmas of '09 the League will be running the Lightning.

 
At 11:31 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Kevin Forbes said...

Dennis,

Don't confuse questionable hockey-business practices with bad business.

Charles Wang has some interesting ways to approach running an NHL team as well, but he's a secure owner. Bill Wirtz wasn't a good hockey owner, but he as a stable base for the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, guys like Rigas and Del Biaggio were bad business guys.

To their credit, Barrie knows how to sell a product and no NHL owner gets into the game to try to make money. It's more a wait and see if they can work with the product at hand. I wouldn't immediately think they're going to fall on their face financially, despite any changes on the ice.

 
At 11:37 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly the new Lightning ownership subscribes to the theory that, "Restraining Orders are Just Another Way of Saying I Love You."

I love that.

 
At 11:53 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

If you're Lecavalier, why the hell would you sign? The location is nice and the money is good but there would be money for him anywhere.

BTW, James I count 4 Cup players (5 if you want to count Prospal) that are left: Vinny, St. Louis, Boyle and Lukowich. But that is still a lot of turnover from a championship team in a short amount of time.

 
At 1:34 PM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vinny Prospal is the key. He left Tampa and team won Stanley. He left Anaheim and they won. I'm putting my money on Philly.

Tampa looks like a mess and they're the better one out of Florida teams.

Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, Carolina, Phoenix etc. Even with these disasters NHL is doing fairly well and cap is going up again.

Hamilton or Waterloo, anyone?

 
At 1:34 PM, June 23, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

You're right — I missed Lukowich somehow.

 
At 2:47 PM, June 23, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

BTW, James I count 4 Cup players (5 if you want to count Prospal) that are left: Vinny, St. Louis, Boyle and Lukowich. But that is still a lot of turnover from a championship team in a short amount of time.

I count 4 Cup players on the Red Wings (5 if you want to count McCarty) . . . from 1997. Different styles, I guess.

 
At 6:15 PM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even unemployed Torts is ahead by leaving this circus.

 
At 6:49 PM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I normally agree with your opinions but I am excited by the new ownership group. Despite being a billionaire, Davidson wouldn't spend any money and could care less about hockey. I will remain optimistic until proven otherwise.

 

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