New Tampa Bay Lightning owner Oren Koules. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Chris O\'Meara
TAMPA, Fla. - The primary investors in a group buying the Tampa Bay Lightning say they have no intentions of moving the team, will be "shockingly aggressive" in free agency this summer and are on the verge of naming a coach.
Oren Koules and Len Barrie said Monday that the team finished last in the NHL last season is not broken, but merely needs tweaking. They hope the new coach, long rumoured to be television analyst and former Los Angeles Kings coach Barry Melrose, is part of the fix.
Several hours after brushing aside questions about the coaching vacancy, the Lightning scheduled a Tuesday press conference to introduce a replacement for John Tortorella, who was fired on June 3.
"Not yet," Koules said Monday, when asked during a news conference if the ownership group had a coach.
"Tomorrow," Barrie blurted before backtracking and saying a decision still needed to be made.
"We're going to meet a bunch of guys today," Koules interjected, "and we'll let you know."
Monday's news conference was held to introduce the remaining members of the ownership group led by Koules, a Hollywood producer, and Barrie, a one-time NHL player who's now a real estate developer in Canada.
Hollywood producer Mark Burg, lawyer and investment banker Russell Belinsky, advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard C. Lehman and Tampa Bay-area based business executives Irwin Novack and Craig Sher are the partners.
Last week, the NHL board of governors unanimously approved the sale to Koules' OK Hockey, which agreed to pay US$206 million for team, the lease-hold rights to the St. Pete Times Forum and about 5.5 acres of land adjacent to the downtown arena.
The sale is expected to finalized by the end of the month.
The Lightning have been owned since 1999 by Palace Sports & Entertainment, a group led by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, which helped transform them from a last-place team into the 2004 Stanley Cup champion.
Koules vowed the team will be "staggeringly active" in free agency to acquire players to put around No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos and help the Lightning get back on track in a hurry.
"We're not buying something that's broke," Barrie said. "It just needs to be tweaked."
The first move was reaching agreement with Vinny Prospal on a four-year deal that reunites him on a line with Lightning stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Tampa Bay acquired the rights to Prospal from Philadelphia last week.
The deal was reached Saturday, however the contract has not been signed because Prospal is in the Czech Republic.
Barrie is confident the Lightning can be competitive despite a budget that won't allow them to spend as much as some other teams.
"If you make good hockey decisions, it isn't always the team that spends the most money. That's been proven over and over again," Barrie said.
"Everyone always comes up and says we want to be like the Detroit Red Wings. We're not going to say that. ... Who we want to be is the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, who were last-place teams that turned it around really quickly with smart or shrewd moves, some luck in the draft and the goalie stepping up."