Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vinny Committing To The Tampa Circus

The Tampa Bay Lightning have new owners. Oren Koules and Len Barrie head a group that has bought the team. They are committed to doing things in an inconventional way. Koules is a movie producer, best known for The Saw movies. Len Barrie is a Vancouver Island real estate developer. Both have played hockey in Western Canada. Barrie was a borderline NHL player who played 184 NHL games over seven seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Oren Koules never made the NHL, but had a reasonable WHL career and played a season in the ACHL. They are making the mistake of being overly involved owners who interfere with the hockey decisions made by the hockey men they employ.

They brought Barry Melrose back to coaching (largely because he is a friend of Koules). They have added Rick Tocchet and Brian Lawton to their organization, while seeing director of player personnel Bill Barber resign. They overruled scouting to see David Carle picked in the seventh round of the draft. Carle (the younger brother of Matt Carle of the San Jose Sharks) has a heart condition that has ended his hockey career - he will not be playing at the University of Denver next year, where he has a scholarship, because of it. Koules saw that Carle would be selected because he claims to know the family and thinks the diagnosis is not as severe as reported. All told, they seem like gung ho fantasy hockey GMs who are trying their hand in the NHL.

The biggest problem they will have is financial. They were unable to get a loan to buy the team through conventional measures. Former owner Bill Davidson is providing the financing of the sale himself. Here is James Mirtle's opinion on the likely circus in Tampa Bay.

What will happen to the new owners when the losses (both financial and on the ice) begin to pile up? Will they lose interest in the team and withdraw? Tampa Bay was a last place team last season. They lack any depth at forward or defence. They have poor goaltending. It seems that losses are inevitable on the ice and those will likely lead to losses financially. It is not clear that Koules and Barrie have the money to handle financial losses and it is not clear that they have the patience to handle the on ice ones. They remind me of the brash new GM who joins your fantasy hockey league, talks trash all through the draft, finds them out of the race by November and never checks on his team again by January. For Tampa's sake, I hope I am wrong.

One key player who is staying in this potential train wreck is Vincent LeCavalier. He is the best player on the Lightning and is very important to any chances at longterm success. LeCavalier can potentially be an unrestricted free agent next summer and if things get bad in Tampa, that would be a move he should consider. However, it is reported that he will be signing a nine year $77 million contract. Although that is big money, a player of LeCavalier's ability could command at least that much on the open market. So this is not his only shot at this big payday. I think it is a reasonable question for LeCavalier to be asking if ownership has the resources to stick around long enough to see that contract through. If they do not, what happens to the contract and what happens to the Tampa Bay Lightning? Does he really want to be a part of that uncertainty? The contract cannot be officially announced until July 1st, since under the CBA a player cannot sign a contract extension until the final year of his current deal (at that final year starts July 1st).

Tampa Bay will be interesting to watch. It is unlikely they will have a good season. How will ownership react when that occurs? Can ownership withstand the likely financial losses? What happens to Vincent LeCavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning if things get ugly?

Here is the TSN story about the contract - with no discussion of the new ownership.

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