Jeffrey Vinik's Modus Operandi
The Sound of Silence was a hit song by Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960's, which today characterizes the current state or the Lightning franchise. It's not that the Bolts franchise is dormant in the offseason, but it is more along the lines of these Paul Simon lyrics:
And in the naked light I saw
Ten-thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People listening without hearing
There is internal chatter going on at 401 Channelside Drive and elsewhere within the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise - but we wouldn't know it. We can't know it.
Furthermore, there is chatter outside the board room and offices of the organization. Speech not from hearing, hearing not from listening... it started before Jeffrey Vinik took control of the Lightning.
In what has come to light with Vinik as a businessman, the way he operates is in stealth, not in the public sphere. Certainly not for fodder of the likes of The Hockey News' Ken Campbell - who has written large amounts of dime-store quality fiction regarding Vinik's intentions with the Tampa Bay Lightning--particularly members of the Lightning roster.
And now that the general manager and head coaching jobs are open for new applicants, the same kind of speculation - drawing conclusions or just fictitious speculation - has been running around since last Monday when the axe fell on Rick Tocchet and Brian Lawton. We've made it a point to remind readers that there would be no GM hiring before a CEO was put into place for the Bolts, but that has not stopped the likes of Michael Russo in Minnesota and other sources from reporting of Doug Risebrough's imminent hiring as general manager of the Bolts.
And the truth is... It is people speaking without hearing, and people hearing without listening. It's chatter that's just not there.
The truth is, Jeff Vinik is hiring someone as CEO to run the franchise and oversee operations for his Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment group. He is not going to run the day-to-day himself, like former ownership had. In general, he plans to operate the team as part of a business, not as a fantasy sports-like enterprise.
Who Vinik hires as CEO will hire a general manager. The GM will hire the head coach. It's not going to be Vinik's call on who gets signed or traded, who will be in the lineup or what type of system is employed on ice. He's made these points clear several times since taking over the Lightning, and it's what renders a lot of the speculation by the likes of Campbell, Russo, and others as idle bullshit.
To add to the point, Vinik has been burned in the press in the past (in relation to running Fidelity Magellan and getting out of the tech-stock racket before the tech bubble ballooned in the late 1990's). With that in mind, this St. Petersburg Times remark about Vinik must be remembered:
He has made it a habit to avoid the press since quitting Fidelity in 1996.
This means that members of the press who act like they know what Jeff Vinik is going to do before he does it, are selling the public a load of crap. Instead of making his entire employee search a public spectacle, he's more likely to play his cards close to his vest, leaving others to figure out just what he's doing and why.
What is up for public speculation is Vinik's decree that the CEO does not have to be a hockey person. While there are plenty of names from hockey backgrounds that have been thrown out, this should also open the potential dark-horse candidates: Former financial sector employees, arena operation specialists, baseball executives, show-business folks--people who bring a broad expertise to the job. They will not have the sole designation of operating a hockey team. They'll be overseeing a sports-entertainment business (which all sports franchises are in one way or another), which requires heightening the experience for customers, and expanding revenue opportunities for the club. Vinik's ideals for the position are:
The person does not have to have a hockey background, Vinik said, but must possess "great business experience."
While candidates like Jim Lites, Ron Campbell and other long time sports executives are on the speculative short list, having an unknown (but experienced) businessman in the mold of Tampa Bay Ray's president Matthew Silverman hired for the job should not be shocking if (or when) it happens
We don't know Jeffrey Vinik's methodology as an owner, though Joseph Checkler of Dow Jones Newswires reported that Vinik's methodology as a fund manager during the Great Recession had been (at the time):
...the fundamental, bottom-up research oriented manager he has always been.
Checkler, in his article on Vinik, published long before Vinik's Lightning ownership interest surfaced, also noted:
(Vinik's hedge-fund) is so secretive that it doesn't even use corporate email. Jeffrey Vinik did briefly fall into the spotlight in 2007 as a limited partner of the Boston Red Sox, when his son Danny caught a foul ball over the glove of an Anaheim Angels outfielder's glove, prolonging an at-bat that led to the Red Sox tying, and eventually winning, a playoff game.
What Lightning fans (and the media) have seen during the honeymoon period of Vinik's ownership tenure has been uncharacteristic of the man. All the media attention he's gotten, he had shunned in the past.
This past modus operandi of Vinik's, staying out of the spotlight, tells us all that beat reporters and columnists around sports can speculate on anything and everything with his plans for the club... But it's ultimately fruitless. To know the man and get the inside fundamentals of his plans would require more trust and faith than Vinik will bestow upon the likes of Ken Campbell, Michael Russo... Or even John Fontana.