The new owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning are moving a million miles a minute, not wasting a moment ever since their purchase of the NHL club was officially approved last Wednesday.
"I don't think we've even started yet," charismatic Hollywood producer Oren Koules, majority owner along with former player Len Barrie, said in an interview Wednesday.
Their most important move of all won't be officially announced until mid-July but the basic framework is essentially in place - a US$77-million, nine-year contract extension for franchise player Vincent Lecavalier.
Koules would not confirm or deny the financial details but a source close to the deal confirmed it Wednesday.
The new deal, which will pay on average $8.55 million a season, won't kick in until the 2009-10 season and will likely ensure the 28-year-old Lecavalier retires with the one and only team he's ever played for.
"In other markets I'm sure he could get more money," Koules told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. "But he wants to be here. He sat down with us, we explained our vision of the team and the organization. We look at Vinny, he's a guy that wants to live in Tampa when he's done playing. Whenever that is, we want to move him right into an adviser role or be an executive with us.
"We look at Detroit and the way they handled Steve Yzerman and that's what we want to be doing," added Koules. "Vinny means a lot to this community."
According to the collective bargaining agreement, the extension cannot be announced until July. Lecavalier has one more year left on his contract at $7.167 million and would have been an unrestricted free agent in July 2009. Lecavalier had 92 points (40-52) in 81 games last season.
Koules, meanwhile, revealed the team also had an agreement in principle with winger Vaclav Prospal, a $14-million, four-year deal that will keep the veteran Czech from testing free-agent waters July 1.
It's all part and parcel for the vision Koules and Barrie have for their new team. Koules says he wants the Lightning to be the kind of team "that does the right thing."
"Hopefully be a place where people want to go," said Koules. "I think that's going to be more and more important with the cap. You take the top six free agents, everyone is going to offer them within a percentage amount of what they'll get. Someone who really has to get a player might go a little bit more. But it's going to be about where the player wants to play."
In the case of Prospal and Lecavalier, that's Tampa.
"Prospal could have got more money other places but came back here," Koules said. "Lecavalier could get way more money playing in certain other markets but wants to stay here. It's making the right choices and being good owners with the right management team.
"Hopefully in June players are talking to their agents and saying, 'You know what? I want to go play for those guys, it looks like they're having fun, they want to win and they're playing a good brand of entertaining hockey."'
Koules and Barrie will be making their pitch next Tuesday, July 1, when the unrestricted free-agent market opens for business.
"I can't guarantee what exactly will happen but I guarantee we'll be in there in a shocking way," said Koules. "We'll be very active."
It's been a whirlwind week since officially taking over the team last Wednesday. Koules and Barrie met with the NHL's hierarchy last Friday and later that night welcomed into the fold first overall pick Steve Stamkos. In between, there was the hiring of head coach Barry Melrose on Tuesday and of former agent Brian Lawton on Wednesday as vice-president of hockey operations.
"He was a former first overall pick as a player, he was an unbelievably successful agent, and he's very detailed orientated and very visionary," Koules said of Lawton. "He was sitting down with Len putting five-and 10-year projections together."
Lawton's hiring and the enthusiastic approach from Koules and Barrie leave many to wonder where GM Jay Feaster fits into things.
"I mean, I think it's kind of up to Jay," responded Koules. "He is still today our general manager. We did not hire Brian as GM, he's the vice-president of hockey operations to help us design and build a great hockey organization."
The Lightning were busy Wednesday, also announcing:
-Goalie Marc Denis was bought out of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. He had one year left on his deal at $3 million.
-Director of player personnel Bill Barber has resigned effective July 1. The Hall of Famer joined the Lightning in 2002 after 18 years as a coach and scout in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Barber recorded 883 career regular-season points (420-463) in 12 seasons with the Flyers.