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Vinik: 'This community is fantastic'

Owner Jeff Vinik met with the media at Fan Fest on Sunday

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

At Sunday's annual Fan Fest celebration during Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Fox Sports Sun announcers and voices of the Lightning Rick Peckham and Brian Engblom interviewed Bolts owner Jeff Vinik and general manager Julien BriseBois in front of the fans. They spoke about the disappointment of getting swept in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the changes made during the offseason and the optimism for the season ahead. Following the session, Mr. Vinik headed to a room behind the Lightning bench for an interview scrum with local Tampa Bay media. Below is the transcript from that media availability.

How long was this offseason for you?
"Every offseason is long. This one was longer because it started at the end of April rather than June like we'd wished it would. I think we made great progress in the offseason. I think Julien made some really good moves. I feel great about our team coming into the season. We've got to have a good camp and we've got to have a good season and hopefully we'll make the playoffs and good things happen from there. I don't know how many days it is from the end of April until October 3, but it's a lot of days and I'm counting them down and I can't wait to get to see the puck in action."

More antsy than usual this time around?
"I've been through it a lot. I'd say it's normal. Frankly if we had won the Stanley Cup, if we didn't win the Stanley Cup, I just can't wait for the opening of the next season to get there."

How long did it take you to get over the first-round defeat?
"I will quote Victor Hedman where he said he hasn't gotten over losing to the Blackhawks in 2015. I don't think we ever get over it. We had a really good team. We had a really good opportunity and for whatever reason things didn't go our way. We'll learn from it. We're disappointed by it. We'll learn by it, and hopefully this year we can have a better outcome."

Did that hurt from a business standpoint?
"No, our fans are so fantastic here. We didn't feel it at all. We think we're going to continue to sell out all of our games. This community is fantastic. They support us so well. I don't think it's hurt us."

The players and coaches will say it was kind of a humbling way to end the season. Is it that same way from an ownership point of view where you think about doing things a certain way, you learn about it?
"Yeah, I mean, every season, first of all two years ago I believe it was we didn't make the playoffs and that was tough to stomach. Last year was tough to stomach. The year before we lost to Washington, they're all humbling, difficult, disappointing endings. As we know only one team out of 31 has a happy ending right? That's part of the process. That's what's going to make it so sweet when we are that one team, when we do get to that point, and we all hope it's this coming June."

Does there start to become a point where it's like, 'Okay, we just need to do it?"
"Yes, of course, we all want to do it and win the Cup, but it's hard. There are a lot of other good teams out there. Hockey is a very even sport. A lot of the prognosticators put us No. 1 to win the Cup back then, they have us with a 14 percent chance, a one-in-seven chance. A lot of other good teams, a lot of good stuff and bad stuff happens during the season, ups and downs. It's part of sports and it gets in the playoffs and that's magnified. It's not an easy thing to do. We think if we're one of the best teams year in and year out, we think that it's inevitable and hopefully inevitable visits Tampa Bay in the spring."

Julien BriseBois has been on the job one year now. He was given a pretty good challenge in terms of some of the navigation he had to do with players and salary cap. Just as you kind of sit back and evaluate him, how was year one for Julien?
"I think it's tremendous. He's not Steve Yzerman. He's different than Steve Yzerman. He's Julien BriseBois. He came in and he was confident. He knew how he wanted to do the job. Great relationship with Coop. Great relationship with me. It's been seamless and I couldn't be more pleased with the job he's doing. Remember, Julien had a lot more experience in the front office when he took over a year ago than Steve Yzerman did nine or 10 years ago. He's been tremendous, what a professional to work with."

What has the reaction been to the Sweden trip?
"We sold out tickets immediately basically. It's going to be so exciting to go over there. I'm happy for our guys. I think they're really looking forward to the trip, Victor more than anybody else is looking forward to the trip. It's going to be a lot of fun."

What does it mean for the organization to take a trip like this? It's great for players, it's great for Victor, but what does it mean for the organization as a whole?
"The more international exposure we can get, the better. We think we have a good organization here. We think we have a really good team here. We want to be known around the League as one of the top hockey franchises. Being able to go to Sweden, that's great for the organization. We've got a lot of friends going, a lot of fans are going over, sponsors are going over. It's a great bonding event for everybody. It's good, and hopefully we'll have other experiences like that like an outdoor game in the not-to-distant future."

Is that potentially in the next couple years you think?
"I sure hope so. I've been pushing as hard as I can for, how long have I owned the team? Ten years?"

Is it encouraging or frustrating to see another warm-weather location get an outdoor game?
"I noticed it."

Are there tangible ways you've seen the brand grow internationally?
"I think it has. Around the country, I'm amazed that when you go to another city, there are three times as many Lightning fans as there was five or 10 years ago. I'm amazed at how many, I talk to people, someone from L.A., 'Steven Stamkos is my favorite player,' or whatever it is. I think we've made tremendous progress in that respect, and I think it's just going to continue to grow."

Do you have a different chance to witness that when you travel independently of the team?
"I do. I do travel quite a bit. I probably spend half my time traveling, whether it's with the team or on business. People know about the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they know about the community, the fan support here. They know we've sold out over 200 games in a row. They know we have a really good team. They know we do things the right way here. I hear it all over wherever I go, so I do feel a great sense of pride about that. It's all due to the people we have and the community support we get."

You meet with a lot of owners throughout the year, you mentioned meeting with new Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo in a couple weeks. Is there an example of an idea you've picked up from another owner in the way you do things?
"We talk about all things. It might be events that we have for our sponsors. It could be social media programs that we're going out with. I think we compete against each other really hard, but we work together because we're all in this business together. I think we're all very eager to steal each other's best ideas."

Is Water Street Tampa progressing like you'd hoped it would at this point and are there any new developments you'd be willing to share with us?
"Not really new developments. That's a good thing. If there were new developments, that would be like we're behind plan or something. No, it's going great. Several buildings have now obviously gone quite vertical and three or four more will go vertical in the next six months. Our entire phase one will be under construction before the end of the season, and that's just about $2 billion of activity, about four or five million sq. ft. in our phase one. Been a long time getting to this point. Takes time. I was crazy optimistic in the beginning where I thought we'd be done by about now, but that's because I don't know very much about real estate and that's why I've hired experts to do that. That's my formula if you haven't noticed: hire experts and stay out of the way."

A lot of talk about the CBA in the last few days, the league chose not to use their opt out clause, we'll find out tomorrow whether the NHLPA does or not. Just how closely are you monitoring that and is there any concern moving forward not knowing what the NHLPA is going to do?
"If there's one thing I've learned as an owner, it's not to discuss the CBA."

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