Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Latest from Lightning Land

So what’s happened since last we talked about Lightning hockey. Umm not much. They cut popular winger, Vinny Prospal, the owners are now engaged in an all-out, buy-the other-out battle for control of the team. They did manage to con someone into taking Radim Vrbata off of their hands before they were forced to eat his contract. Oh, and their number one goalie who is coming off a serious concussion took a shot off the helmet, from a 14-year old. So all in all a normal off-season continues.

Let’s tackle issue two first. According to the St Pete Times it was announced on Sunday that the NHL has told co-owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules that there can only be one. Barrie is up to bat first and has till the end of September to buy out Koules. If he is unable to then Koules has the chance to buy out Barrie. If neither can come to an agreement then former owner Palace Sports and Entertainment can regain control of the team or the league will accept offers for the team from any eligible party not named Jim Balsillie.

This latest missive from the head offices is the latest in a series designed to bring balance to the Force…..err the Lightning hockey club. You know what? Whoever buys the team should rename it Lightning Club de Hockey. Just for fun. And the word “club” looks odd if you type it three times in four sentences. OK, back to the column.

First, Mr. Bettman called the grownups into his office during the draft weekend to sort out who did what with the club. Koules was named the head boss, GM Brian Lawton was in charge of player acquisitions and Barrie had to sign off on all moves over $2.5 million.

Second, Barrie had to prove he could pay off his share of the debt. He produced a $10 million letter of credit that satisfied the league. He also settled a $3 million loan Koules had given him last season. It looks like someone has enough money to keep him in Ed Hardy shirts and Diesel jeans for quite some time now. If it’s enough to acquire sole ownership is a questions yet to be answered.

Finally, this buy out situation. Hopefully, they can figure it out without getting the courts involved. The last thing the team and the league needs is another situation like the one taking place in Phoenix. No one (I.e. local radio hosts) knows why Barrie was given the first chance for sole ownership.

This humble writer’s theory is that the NHL would like Koules to own the franchise. Barrie is going to have much less time to secure the funds necessary to buy out his co-owner / rival. The amount of money required to buy out the other hasn’t been mentioned. OK Hockey bought the team last year for about $200 million (about $100 million which was financed by Palace Sports). We can assume, however, that it is a healthy bit of coin.

Barrie has had cash problems in the past, most of them caused by the ongoing saga of his Bear Mountain Resort in British Columbia. On July 20th of this year he announced that he hoped to “finalize a $350 million investment in Bear Mountain Resort arranged by Siraj Capital (Dubai) Ltd.” in October. How much of that money is going into his pockets remains to be seen. In the same statement he said that the funds would be used for “expansion and future development of the Resort”.

Will he get enough, and will it be in time for him to own the team outright? I don’t think so. He still has the chance to put together a group of investors, something he’s allegedly been trying to do since earlier this year.

Can the Lightning survive a Len Barrie-led ownership? I think they can, but it would be stressful. The rumors of the Lightning not being able to meet payroll would probably persist. Personnel would continue to fluctuate. Despite his support of Vincent Lecavalier, the possibility of a trade wouldn’t go away. As long as money is an issue for this club the possibility of trading their elite center man will always be on the table.

Thinking about it makes my head hurt. I can’t wait for training camp. If my current employment situation continues, well my lack of employment I should say, I might be able to attend some of the camp sessions. Woo-hoo! More autographs!

One player that I won’t be getting an autograph from is Vaclav “Vinny” Prospal. In a somewhat surprising move the Club de Lightning (catchy isn’t it?) cut ties with one third of the once vaunted “MVP” line, Surprising in the sense that they were already short a top six scorer before the move.

If they’re able to turn his dismissal into cap space to sign Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora or Maxim Afinagoniv then it might all work out. Prospal is well liked by a majority of Lightning fans, but has been spotty at best in non-contract years. Forty-five points and a -20 is unacceptable for a player who spent his time on the top two lines. Especially when he hitting the cap at $3.5 million.

Under the terms of the bargaining agreement the Lightning cap will know be dinged at $1.17 million a year for the next six years (2/3 of the remaining contract over twice the length). The Bolts also saved some coin by finding a taker for disenfranchised winger Radim Vrbata. The Lightning sent him back to the Coyotes for Todd Fedoruk and blue liner David Hale.

How will this affect Lecavalier? Reports are that he was best buddies with Prospal, and while I’m sure he understands it’s business related you can’t help but think he’s bummed out about it. Much like he probably wasn’t too pleased with the plethora of trade talk over the last two years.

Of course winning would go a long way to helping him get over it. The pressure is on GM Lawton to make this all work out. So far his summer has gone rather well. He has gone out of his way to make sure there will be depth on the backline, a notable weakness from last season. Bringing in two wingers who could get into the 15-23 goal range each would turn this team into a potential playoff contender.

Oh and by the way, Mike Smith did survive the shot off the head from the teenager. So I guess that’s good news, eh?

No comments: