Friday, January 29, 2010

Vinik's Vetting Vexes Vinny Votary*

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning to settle down for a morning reading of the paper along with my tea and oatmeal I was happy to see that the Lightning had a front page, above-the-fold headline on the sports page. Unfortunately it wasn’t about their solid play of late, it was about the latest ownership drama. Immediate reaction across the internet has been doom and gloom (as usual).

For those not familiar with the ownership drama that Lightning fans have been subjected to over the past two seasons, the two main owners – Oren Koules and Len Barrie – don’t like each other and have been scrambling to pay the bills since they’ve bought the team from the Davidson Group. About a week ago it came out that they had to borrow on their TV deal to make payroll last year and had to have a portion of their league revenue sharing forwarded in January to make payroll this season. Good times!

Now it appears that head honcho of the NHL – Gary Bettman is looking to bring someone else into the picture. Jeff Vinik, the main man behind Vinik Asset Management and a minority owner of the Red Sox, has “vetted” the Lightning and according to the Hockey News is “a front-runner to buy the team and is serious in his offer”.

As a hedge fund manager Vinik is known in the financial circles as an aggressive investor who finds high-risk, high-reward projects. In their current financial state the Lightning definitely qualify as high-risk. As for the high-reward portion of the equation that depends on a lot of factors, not the least would be the NHL securing a new television deal and working out a new CBA.

With his ties to the Northeast the “Tampa-to-Hartford” conspiracies should run rampant should he buy the team. Is it possible? Sure, but it’s also possible that the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail project makes money. Possible doesn’t mean likely. Bettman wants to keep the NHL in Florida and Tampa has a better fan base than Miami.

With a new name popping up in the latest round of ownership talk the usual rumors about slashing payroll and trading players has begun anew. At the forefront of that talk is the captain and holder of the $10 million salary – Vincent Lecavalier. The “fans” are clamoring at their keyboards to reignite the Vinny to anywhere but here rumors.

The Wizard from Ile Bizard can’t win. If he struggles on the ice then he’s “lazy”, “Le-casual”, or “uninterested”. If he’s hot (like he has been since the start of the second half) then he’s playing well so that other teams will be interested in him or selfishly piling up his stats.

His repeated comments about wanting to stay, management’s repeated statements about him not being on the market are ignored. The anonymous commenters on-line, with their clever names and horrendous spelling know more than the people have dedicated their lives to hockey. So they raise their indignant voices to the high heavens in outrage and threaten to cancel their season tickets.

It becomes repetitive to list the reasons why the chances of Vincent getting traded are slim no matter who owns the team, but I’ll run them down again quickly.

- The no movement clause. Unlike Dan Boyle, the Lightning captain has complete control over his destiny. The team cannot threaten to expose him to waivers in order for him to waive his no-trade clause. To paraphrase Seinfeld – the team has “no hand” in this relationship.

- Vinny likes Tampa. I know that’s a shock to all Canadians out there. How can a native son not want to play in Montreal? He likes the sun, the golf and the relative anonymity. Which leads to the next (and possibly biggest point).

- The media spotlight in Tampa pales in comparison to the rest of the hockey world. In a town where the biggest star in the NHL – Alex Ovechkin – can take a cab to McDonalds and not get harassed, Vinny can go about his business without much hassle. If he goes two games without a goal, there’s minimal grumbling but no one is jumping off the Skyway. If he is traded to Montreal, New York, Toronto, Edmonton or Vancouver then every game he doesn’t score is going to be dissected and analyzed in the papers and on the radio. With a new child on the way does he really want that pressure?

-The salary cap. The same contract that is an “albatross” to the Lightning also makes it hard for another team to bring him into the fold. Let’s take a look at the two teams that have generated the most talk:

Montreal – Salary Cap committed to next year - $44,892,143
New York – Salary Cap committed to next year - $48,596,667

I’m pulling the numbers off of the website. From what I’ve seen they are fairly accurate. Other sites might have some slightly different amounts, but they are all in the same general ballpark.

There is a chance that the salary cap might come down in the next few seasons based on the revenue being generated in the league right now.If that happens neither team has flexibility to bring on a $7 million cap hit. They also don’t have any large salaries that the Lightning would be willing to take on in return. Speaking of the return, certain Lightning fans are deluded as to what Vincent would bring back.

He’s not going to bring in multiple high level prospects, high draft picks and NHL-ready players. If a team is going to take on his money they aren’t going to kill their farm system at the same time. In all likelihood he’ll bring A prospect and A high pick. There might be a NHL player in the package as well for salary cap purposes, but not an ugly contract like Wade Redden’s.

Why would the Lightning take Redden’s $6.5 million cap hit when his salary is also $6.5 million for the next two seasons as well as $5 million for the two years after that? Vincent might cost more money, but he is also on track to put 80 points on the board.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a supposed fan base so eager to trade away the best player in the team’s history. Yes, I said it. Marty St Louis may be the heart of the team, but it only goes as far as Vinny does. He is the stick of sugarcane that stirs the Mojito in Tampa.

Without him, the Lightning are down to one line, and let’s see how Stamkos does when the other teams can focus on him 100%. The kid has all the talent in the world, but also has the benefit of having another line that teams have to worry about.

Lightning fans might want to be more worried about St Louis moving at the deadline instead of Lecavalier. There are a lot of teams looking for a winger that are going to miss out on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. With a relatively light cap hit ($4 million) for one more year he has the type of contract that can bring a solid return.

New ownership rumors are fun for the internet and talk radio, but fans have to remember that at this point it is all speculation. Vinik can still walk away if he doesn’t like what he sees. If he does invest in the team wouldn’t it be in his best interest to keep a viable product on the ice? Trading the captain isn’t going to improve their play, and most importantly it won’t improve their attendance.

*Votary - noun, a devoted follower or admirer


Captain Canuck said...

I agree with several of your points. Vinny in Montreal=disaster.
On tv during the Tampa/Habs game, the cameras went out into the Tampa players parking lot and showed off their cars. Sweet Jesus. It was like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

and I can see St Louis going before Vinny. Many teams need help on the wing, Pittsburgh at the forefront.

dogfacedgremlin said...

Vinny to Pittsburgh???

Do I hear it? Oh, I hear it.

Justin G. said...

dfg -more likely St Louis to Pitt..if they can offload the Chris Kunitz contract.

dogfacedgremlin said...

I wouldn't complain about that one either. We need help.

vancitycanuck said...

dfg: Vinny to Pittsburgh? They are will be stretched to the limit with regards to their cap situation in the coming years, thus that would never happen.

Vinny to LA is much more likely. But I doubt we'll see any movement until the summer (if any)