January 29, 2010
Well, they are a toilet of revenue this season; receiving advances from the NHL they may or may not have strings attached; and have an ownership situation that's about as appealing as day-old wings at a St. Pete Hooters.
But there's one big difference between the hardships of Bolts and the Yotes:
Gary Bettman was not getting caught with his pants on the ground (lookin' like a fool!) this time.
He was going to find an investor or a new owner for Tampa Bay, lest a second warm-weather franchise descend into cataclysmic uncertainty in consecutive seasons. He was going to find one that was going to keep the team in Florida. And he was going to check every option short of digging up a recently deceased billionaire and manipulating him like a marionette ala "Weekend at Bernie's" -- and even that may still be an option on the table.
So it comes as no surprise that Bettman is taking an aggressive role in brokering a deal between the Lightning and Boston-based hedge fund manager Jeffrey Vinik, as The Hockey News reported exclusively last night.
Uncertainty reigns in the article, but THN reports that the estimated sale price for "the Lightning and the five-acre parcel of land adjacent to the St. Petes Times Forum" is $170 million. Which would be $30 million less than the reported purchase price for Oren Koules and Len Barrie back in 2008. Ah, the sweet smell of depreciation; like fresh-cut grass to a hedge fund manager.
Who is Vinik? Expect that to come into focus soon, but Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times offers a thumbnail bio.
Vinik, 50, a limited partner with the Red Sox, is better known in financial circles. The New Jersey native, Duke graduate and Harvard MBA managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund in the mid and late '90s. He is the principal owner of Vinik Asset Management.
Its Sept. 30 quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated the company is managing holdings of $1.7 billion. A March 2006 Boston Magazine article put Vinik's worth at $515 million.
Whether Vinik's interest is from a passion for hockey or an eye for an investment is unclear.
One thing is clear: His son is no Steve Bartman.
Raw Charge pointed to this Dow Jones article on Vinik that paints Vinik as a man who knew when to buy and when to sell, specifically in regard to his timing with the tech stock bubble. Which naturally leads one to ask "so why buy the Lightning?" until one remembers that, yes, this is a quality hockey market when it isn't (a) being presided over by two bickering egos that (b) hire their first coach because they like his act on ESPN and (c) allow the mismanagement of the roster both fiscally and personnel-wise to the point of fan apathy.
There is also speculation that if Vinik buys the team, he will be eager to cut payroll to get player costs in line, which means captain Vincent Lecavalier and his $7.7 million salary cap hit (and $10 million salary for the next six seasons) may very well be shopped before the trade deadline and prior to Vinik taking control of the team.
Again, "shopped" doesn't mean "traded," because it's not like he hasn't been shopped before; and it's not like Lecavalier, currently having an offensive renaissance while Tampa lingers a point out the playoffs, can't kill any deal with his no-movement clause that kicked in last summer.
Besides, the notion of a player being traded to help facilitate a franchise sale to someone the Board of Governors has yet to approve seems a little cart-before-the-hedge-fund-manager, doesn't it? What if Vinik doesn't pass the BoG's stringent "we don't like your stupid face in our clubhouse" litmus test?
Besides, Tampa is contending. As a wise man once said:
"This franchise is not broken. It just needs a little tweaking."
Wait, that was Oren Koules? Oh ...