During this past lock-out season, the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated its 20th anniversary as a franchise. And throughout those twenty years fans have seen both the comedies and the tragedies associated with a variety of owners.
Having personally experienced the highs and lows of Lightning hockey over two decades, I’m more than confident in saying that the overwhelming majority of Lightning faithful would affirm that Jeff Vinik is well-positioned to be forever heralded as the owner who rescued and then rehabilitated our franchise.
Remember Lightning Partners, Inc. (owned by Kokusai Green Co., Ltd.)? As is turned out, the owner of Kokusai Green, Takashi Okubo, never met with Phil Esposito or NHL officials in person before being awarded the franchise — big mistake. Forbes published an article in 1997 suggesting that the Lightning was a financial nightmare.
Then Art Williams became a hockey fan for a year before Palace Sports & Entertainment and Bill Davidson took the helm and brought us a Stanley Cup. No question that bringing Lord Stanley to Tampa Bay was a tribute to the players as well as ownership.
In 2007, Jeff Sherrin and Oren Koules were introduced as the principals of Absolute Hockey Enterprises and they proved themselves to be, well, absolutely horrific as owners. Doug MacLean was part of an original group that negotiated a deal for purchase but that agreement never materialized.
Finally, hope arrives at Channelside. Jeff Vinik fundamentally inherited a reclamation project in 2010 with a promise of a return to respectability. He’s more than delivered on that promise despite the lack of consistent on-ice success.
The Duke engineering graduate with a Harvard M.B.A. isn’t just smart; Jeff Vinik is successful. In addition, his philanthropic efforts in the community are nowhere more clearly evidenced than at each Lightning home game when he donates $50,000 to a local community hero through the Lightning Foundation.
With his wife Penny, the Vinik’s have served as chairs of the American Cancer Society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball, and Penny is the chair of a community arts initiative which allows local artists to display their work throughout the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
So does this make Jeff Vinik the best owner in Lightning history? It doesn’t…yet. But with the foundation for success he’s established and his commitment to the community, it’s just a matter of time before all of the pieces fall into place.
There’s something to be said about not being an absentee owner, about caring enough to move your family and your business to a new community. Moreover, it’s more than impressive when a humble franchise owner knows what true leadership is all about, and then creates and executes a plan to achieve team goals and reinvigorate community pride.
Thanks, Jeff, for being the leader that’s created a vision for our hockey team and our community. We appreciate you!