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.
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.