TAMPA — In four years under the ownership of Jeff Vinik, the Lightning have qualified for the postseason twice.
As Tampa Bay gets set to host Montreal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Wednesday, Vinik sat down with The Tampa Tribune to discuss his four years of ownership, reaching the playoffs this season, how the business model is working and his complete trust in general manager Steve Yzerman.
Q: With everything that has happened surrounding the team on and off the ice this year, how pleased are you the team reached the playoffs?
A: “I think a lot of credit goes to the veterans we have on the team as well as the young guys who stepped up. Given some of the challenges we faced over the past six months, to earn 101 points is a great accomplishment. I’m proud of the guys, I think our coach did a great job. I just feel really good about it and it’s been really exciting to watch.’’
Q: How has the business side done this year?
A: “It’s been very good. Our fans have been awesome. The lift they gave the team the last week of the season was tremendous, the atmosphere in the building was phenomenal. They make a big difference. Our renewals for season tickets next year is the best they have ever been this time of year, playoff sales have been good. We feel like the community is behind us and we have made great progress from the business side and we feel good about it.’’
Q: You just signed Steve Yzerman to a four-year contract extension, so how strongly do you believe in him?
A: “From an owner’s perspective, it’s really a good thing when you believe in 100 percent in (CEO) Tod (Leiweke) and Steve because I don’t Monday morning quarterback, I don’t second guess. I know I have great people doing everything in their power with good motives to make the right decisions.’’
Q: Were you ever worried about taking a public relations hit from the loss of both Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis?
A: “Yes. Frankly, the directive I’ve given Steve Yzerman is to create a world-class hockey culture and team here. And along the way you are going to have to make some very difficult decisions and sometimes unpopular decisions. I think our fans have done a tremendous job of understanding the reasons we’ve had to make these difficult decisions. They are both not only great players but just amazing members of this community. And two different situations, and Steve as always with 100 percent integrity handled the situations very well. And we think it’s also going to work out very well for our team long term.
Q: Have you spoken to Ryan Malone following his arrest over the weekend?
A: “I have not talked to Ryan. Obviously, I’m disappointed to hear the news, but what I’m most concerned about is Ryan the person and that he has the best path ahead of him.’’
Q: Is owning a hockey team everything you thought it would be after four years?
A: “It’s been everything and more. I love it. Up until now we’ve been up and down from a hockey perspective, we’re just now getting the financials to where we want them to be, but I love owning the team, I love being a part of the Tampa Bay community, I love going to games, I love watching on TV, I love getting to know people in this community and it’s been the best four years of my life.’’