DENVER – The person in charge is calm. This is his nature.
He watches his hockey team in silence, stays out of the locker room until the end of each post-season series and keeps quiet around town, even as his development plans transform Tampa.
So how competitive is Lightning owner Jeff Vinick?
“I don’t like to lose,” Vinik said. “I think you can be a modest person and still be a high competitor.”
Vinik agreed to talk only about hockey topics before match 2 of the Stanley Cup final on Saturday. What follows is an excerpt from his answers. (The questions and answers are edited for short.)
Let’s go back to the opening night. The Lightning are two-time defending champions of the Stanley Cup, but the list has suffered some hits. Did you start the season with the thought of the Stanley Cup or relegation?
You know, 82 games of the hockey season are painful. At the opening we had only one goal: to reach the playoffs. If we achieved this goal, then who knows what could happen from there? We knew we lost a number of really strong players because of hats, but we thought we would attract a number of really good hockey players.
Was there one player you lost – Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Yani Gourd, Tyler Johnson – who made you sadder than anyone else?
All the players are like my children: I love them all equally. I can name one, but if you look at the four or five players we lost, each one was important to our previous success.
Okay, let’s move on to the last night of the regular season. The team was in a little calm. Did you have any doubts that they could switch the key to the post-season?
It’s hard to call this season a failure when we had 110 points. But I don’t think we’ve played to our full potential in the last few months. Although we have a high level of trust in our boys, you are never completely sure whether a team will be able to return to the game of first-class hockey at the moment. So there will always be such questions.
General Manager Julien BriseBois has achieved phenomenal success with deals and acquisitions on time. In the past, he led Goodrow, Coleman, Zack Boghossian and David Savard in the middle of the season. This year he attracted Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel. Give me a quality you admire in Julien.
I work hard. Extremely smart. Extremely thoughtful. This is more than one quality. Extremely respected and with the highest integrity. And he’s a really good man. Somehow I call it the whole package.
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Game 6 of the first round against Toronto. Lightning are facing elimination and the game goes on. You’ve had teams facing elimination before, but never when a season can end in a split second. Describe this moment.
I try to remember if there were other similar games and I can’t think of any. Yes, it was quite a situation. Down 3-2 in the third period. I had a discussion with my youngest son, saying, “Well, we’ll find out what our boys are made of.” to get a little nervous or my hands to tremble. The third period and the sequels of this match were definitely nervous.
Although the core of this team has remained the same, each team has its own unique qualities. How would you describe this year’s team?
I am not sure that the previous two years did not have these qualities either, but right now I would describe the will to win and the will to fight for each other, to block blows for each other. (Coach John Cooper) no doubt does a great job, but the best teams train on their own and take care of themselves. And that goes with spades. We have a great locker room.
At the commissioner’s press conference on Wednesday, someone mentioned the use of the Tampa Bay long-term injury reserve on the way to the 2021 Cup. There are also people who suggest that the 2020 Cup was somehow tarnished by the shortened regular season. Do these things ever bother you?
I try not to worry about things. I myself have been in the press for 30 or 40 years. People can say whatever they want, but I know what an achievement it was for our team to win the Stanley Cup in 2020, both on the ice and mentally in the balloon for 60 days. I would say that winning the balloon was harder than winning any other Stanley Cup because of the mental aspect. And as the Commissioner said, we worked entirely within the rules (in 2021) and did nothing that many other teams did in the same situation.
What comes to mind when you watch Thunder Alley full of fans during a match?
I have been very proud of our fans and the entire Tampa Bay area for several years. The support we received, the number of consecutive sales already exceeds 300, the level of excitement in our building. It was just wonderful to be a part of it. I could not be more grateful for the whole area.
The Sports Business Journal named Lightning the team of the year earlier this season. This should have been very satisfying for the organization.
That was a big deal for us. We are proud not only of the product we put on the ice and the success we have achieved, but also of the way we run our business. In the community, the way we treat our employees, all aspects and all the stakeholders we are involved with.
You look like a very reserved person, but how competitive are you? There must be some fire in order to have the success you have. Are you sick of losing?
No, I don’t really think I’m a sick loser. I don’t like to lose. I think you can be a modest person and still be a high competitor. Julien BriseBois is as relaxed as they come and I can guarantee you that he is as big a competitor as you will ever find. I have invested in the stock market all my life. I receive a scorecard every day. And I want to perform well every day and I want to beat my competition every day and every year, especially in the long run. I don’t think I would be involved in investing or in the hockey game business if I weren’t over-competitive.
Is success in the NHL different from success in the stock market? Is one more exciting than the other?
There are aspects that are enjoyable in both. It’s different. Investing in the stock market is basically an individual sport, where I manage the portfolio with just a few people to get the best results I can. Success in hockey is the best team sport. Not just on the ice, but in the whole community. A much larger group rejoices and participates in this success. I don’t equate the two, except that I like to win in both.
John Romano can be found at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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