June 26, 2008
James Mirtle is a staffer at The Globe and Mail and a hockey blogging pioneer. Greg Wyshynski is the editor of Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog. The only thing they can agree on is that they disagree more often than not. Their debates about hockey and life in general will be published here on a semi-regular basis. Here begins rhetorical warfare ...
WYSHYNSKI: So you've gone ahead and labeled the Tampa Bay Lightning a circus before you've even seen a single Pachyderm or Bearded Lady. And you've called the ownership of Oren Koules and Len Barrie a "nightmare," sight unseen.
You're either more conservative than Pat Buchanan's pajamas in your hockey thinking or you've just been overwhelmed by the negative early press about this group to the point where optimism isn't an option. Koules and Barrie are hockey obsessives who are clearly jazzed with owning an NHL franchise, and are bringing some of the most out-of-the-box thinking to the proceedings since Garth Snow was given a desk job.
And before the peanut gallery shouts in unison, "Look how that worked out," I'd rather have two hockey nuts pushing the envelope than some codger who considers hiring a retread like Craig Hartsburg a bold decision.
Let's give Koules and Barrie a chance to flop before we kick sand in their face. We're witnessing the boldest regime change in recent hockey history: An ESPN talking head, who coached his last NHL game before the advent of digital music downloads, behind the bench; a depressive and a convicted bookie joining him; a potential lifetime contract for Vinny Lecavalier; and a willingness to spend millions to build the team that the owners clearly didn't have in buying the team.
A nightmare? No way. This is the kind of euphoric fever dream one has when they mix Percocet and Jolt cola. It's awesome.
MIRTLE: Must be painful sitting on the fence. Watch the splinters.
"Sight unseen?" We've seen plenty of what's in store in Tampa Bay, and heard more than enough from Koules and Barrie even before the goofy introductory press conference this week.
I've also been critical of the move since before it was in vogue to do so, so you're barking up the wrong tree there, too. (Maybe the one that led to the fence?)
You're just being difficult. Either that, or you love the sideshow, bearded lady and all.
WYSHYNSKI: Are you one of those hockey fans that believes the game is played on paper, James?
"Sight unseen" in the sense that there's no way to measure the success or failure of this ownership group until the games are played and the money's been counted. I agree that the financial history of this deal with Tampa Bay is rather embarrassing, what with the cash flow issues; but if Nashville and Anaheim have taught us anything it's that DiCaprio's character from "Catch Me if You Can" would have been an NHL owner in the sequel. It's all a hustle, and the good ones are the ones who don't get pinched by the feds.
As bat-poop insane as Melrose's addition appears to be, it's balanced by the Vincent Lecavalier signing for less than Crosby's cap hit for nine seasons. They've finally slain the "Vinny on the block" dragon that attacks otherwise smart hockey fans every deadline. He's the franchise, not a bargaining chip. That's very important.
You asked if I love the sideshow, and of course the answer is "affirmative." Not only as a hockey writer who's been blessed with material since the producer of "Saw" first wanted in to the NHL, but as a hockey fan who's sick and tired of NHL ownership being a collection of Good 'Ole Boys with one hand in a death grip on their wallet and their other hand attached to the thumb in their rear. Bring on Oren Koules, bring on Jeff Vanderbeek, bring on Jerry Bruckheimer. Let's make things interesting.
MIRTLE: The thing I can't wrap my head around is that, when you say something like we should "just embrace the wackiness of this decision," what exactly does that mean? If Melrose flops because he hasn't coached in 13 years, if Tampa Bay struggles on the ice do to some goofy off-ice decisions, isn't that wackiness little solace to Lightning fans?
I've got no problem with owners who are enthusiastic and opinionated, but I think it's bush league the way Jay Feaster's being shunted aside here so that Koules and Barrie can bring in their pals. Running an NHL franchise is a tad more complicated than playing Eastside Hockey Manager.
All that said, the Lecavalier contract is half-decent, if a little overly long. It's nice to see they didn't go sideshow on that one, too, as I'd heard rumours of an $11-million a year deal that was in the works.
It would have been wacky for you.
WYSHYNSKI: "Just embrace the wackiness of this decision" is simply a call to give these guys time to operate and not judge them based on their rather unorthodox background or approach. Melrose seems crazy. Going out and spending Brad Richards-like money on one of the UFAs seems crazy. Replacing the entire power structure of a professional hockey team with friends seems like the plot of an un-produced Adam Sandler comedy. (Steve Buscemi would have been the creepy Zamboni driver who saves the day.)
But we don't know if any of these things actually will turn out to be crazy until they hit the ice. That's why they call it "crazy." Could be Kubrick, could be Ed Wood.
Let's say you're right, and Koules and Barrie have mismanaged this team into a laughing stock loser next season. Best case scenario: Either Stamkos or Tavares are going to have to learn to play wing. Worst case scenario: These ultra-competitive owners do what desperate men in the NFL (and Toronto) do all the time, which is throw a ton of money at the biggest name imaginable to fix things. Which means Brian Burke would have the deeds to all the Hooters restaurants in Tampa before he'll have even seen a Loonie from the Leafs.
Last word is yours, sir.
MIRTLE: We've already seen the worst-case scenario, and his name is Boots Del Biaggio. Here's hoping the league did more due diligence with this crew.
Look, I don't have any ill-will toward these guys - I'm just trying to call a spade a spade, and if you're going to, say, name Garth Snow your GM or a media personality your coach, you better well be prepared for the backlash. Koules and Barrie are acting like this is their own little tea party, and they're about to be schooled first-hand by the Ken Hollands of the league if they want to play GM.
It's a sideshow, plain and simple, and all those nice numbers in the attendance column could evaporate quickly.
Previously on Mirtle vs. Wyshynski: