Tool around the Lightning boltosphere and you'll find headlines from blogs and the mainstream media saying that things have improved in just over a week for the Lightning. The Lightning's 2009 draft class is thought of as the best since 1998, and second best overall.
You have the Tribune trumpeting the week of stability in Tampa with thanks to a good draft, the acquisitions of Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker, and the retention of captain Vincent Lecavalier. Subtle - not bombastic - changes that made a big impact on the franchise.
Improved so much, in fact, that OK Hockey had earned themselves a second honeymoon, or so the title of a John Romano blog post suggested.
But whispers of a secret malice are sprinkled through each of these articles... And today, the St. Petersburg Times dragged back into the spotlight just what Lightning fans had wanted to forget about:
The Tampa Bay Lightning is more than a hockey team. The National Hockey League franchise is a major corporate player and one of the most visible public faces of the region. That is what makes the rift between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie more than a private matter. They need to resolve who's boss and focus their energies on making the team and the franchise more successful.
It is embarrassing that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saw the need to summons the pair to his New York office for a come-to-your-senses meeting last month. That shows a level of dysfunction at the top that could paralyze an organization.
This was not a front-page-pushed column by Romano, as was the case two weeks ago when news of the rift and meeting burst into the local news, but an inside-cover story of the Times Sunday Perspective section -- meaning it was at the forefront of Editorial content and the local political/civic concern. And that's how the Times editorial board column reads -- the gravity and seriousness of the rift has to be addressed for the sake of not just local sports fans but a mix of interests from the city, county and private corporate interests.
The coming days will see the Bolts focus on more transactions (free agency signings or trades) and the coming rookie/prospect camp at Times Palace, kicking off midweek and reaching an apex on Saturday with a public scrimmage and super-skills competition. Even with these distractions, the ownership situation will linger on through the rest of the summer.
One can hope, however, that this week has shown the two men at the head of the organization can, in fact, work together.