Four months ago, Tampa Bay Lightning Chair and Governor Jeff Vinik addressed members of both the local and national media at a press conference within the St. Pete Times Forum adamantly vowing to transform the Bolts into a world-class organization.
On Wednesday, Vinik took to the podium again in what appeared to be an instance of déjà vu, although this time with a pair of added bonuses seated to both his right and left, which clearly reaffirmed his philosophy that actions speak louder than words.
To one side sat General Manager Steve Yzerman, and to the other, Tod Leiweke, who Vinik hired as the organization’s CEO on Monday in a dual move that culminated the owner’s quest to fill the front office with the right people. He also outlined his clear focus for the direction of the team, displaying his dedication to both the Lightning organization and the fans within the Tampa Bay community.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to have these two gentlemen sitting next to me,” Vinik said. “I felt it was more important to get the right people than getting them in any certain amount of time.”
Vinik just as well might have accomplished both, hiring a four-time Stanley Cup champion and hockey Hall-of-Famer in Yzerman, along with a reknowned figure with an extensive resume and impressive sports business sense in Leiweke, just halfway through the offseason.
“Tod has an unparalleled level of success in every organization he has been a part of,” Vinik added. “He has the vision, the passion and the experience to lead the franchise towards my goal of being world class on and off the ice. He is an inspirational leader and I am delighted he has shown the confidence in the entire Tampa Bay community to join the Lightning.”
Leiweke, who has served the previous seven years as CEO of the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks after spending time as Executive Vice President of the Vancouver Canucks, opened Wednesday’s press conference by thanking his former employer, Paul Allen, in addition to expressing gratitude to Vinik, whom he first started holding discussions with on the eve of the 2010 Winter Olympics gold medal game.
Vinik also reminded all in attendance at the conference of his plan and outlined how the organization will be run moving forward, while stressing that both Yzerman and Leiweke would work closely with each other despite the former being in charge of hockey operations and the latter overseeing the team’s business initiatives.
Although Leiweke said that there was no specific time table in place to begin his new duties with the Lightning, he couldn’t help but to express his excitement regarding the new opportunity.
“Hockey is a passion of mine and has been for my entire life,” Leiweke said. “I’m really excited to be here, and most importantly, the main reason I am excited is because along with Jeff and Steve, I want to build something special.”
Several factors contributed to the allure in coming to Tampa Bay, Leiweke stated, including its great community, a shared vision, a mutual set of values with Vinik and Yzerman, and the opportunity to team up and work alongside “two really good guys.”
“Jeff Vinik did not just have a vision of excellence, he had evidence of excellence in Steve Yzerman,” Leiweke added. “He is as good as they come. I’m thrilled to be playing on the same line as Steve.”
Leiweke expressed no reservations that the same success from prior experiences would sustain itself again in Tampa Bay. Prior to accepting the Lightning’s CEO position, Leiweke was popularly responsible for a number of noteworthy accomplishments with other professional sports franchises, including his charitable work with the United Way, his efforts to maximize ticket sales and create sell-out crowds while with MLS’s Seattle Sounders, and his role in resurrecting the Seahawks fan base through the team’s 12th man initiative, a testament to the fans themselves for their support, loyalty and dedication.
Many of those accomplishments are looking to be duplicated by Leiweke with the Lightning in the near future, and are considered by Vinik to be crucial contributors in fulfilling the organization’s ultimate goal of becoming included in the top tier of first-class franchises in sports.
Leiweke concluded the session by stating that the utmost importance would be placed on the fans, especially season ticket holders, to reignite the passion within the arena and to recognize the team’s supporters as a significant contributor in creating a winning culture. The emphasis placed on community involvement was equally as high, as Leiweke stressed the importance of making a difference in people’s lives through service and giving back.
“The fans are going to be at the top of the pyramid and our season ticket holders are going to occupy a really special place. We’re going to do everything we can to fill this building and we’re going to do it with a reverence to the game of hockey,” Leiweke said. “If you do this business right you can make a difference in the lives of people. We’re going to do it right. We’re going to make a difference in the lives of people in this community and we’re going to do it together.”