Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

Jeff Vinik giving the St Pete Times Forum a facelift for next season

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When Jeff Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning from Len Barrie and Oren Koules, there was a serious need for an owner who would pour time, money, and energy into getting the franchise back on the path towards respectability. A great new general manager, a hotshot young coach, a few good moves, and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals later and the Lightning are regarded as one of the better teams in the East. What a difference 16 months can make. Now that Vinik’s team has made his mark on the league, he’s using his money to make a mark on the building his team plays in. Literally.

In February, the team announced a $35 million renovation project to give the St Pete Times Forum a much needed facelift. The 15-year-old building was ready for a little touching up; but instead ownership is going all out and giving the building a complete makeover. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. From the St. Petersburg Times, Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke shows exactly where the priorities for the renovated building lie as they tore out eight luxury suits to open up the concourse for fans:

“That was a very challenging decision because ultimately, for our long-term viability, we’ve got to make sure we draw more revenue. But we felt the building in some ways needed a soul.”

(snip)

Re: new seats in arena: “It was the more expensive option, but at the end of the day it really underscored for all of us how serious this guy [owner Jeff Vinik] was in serving our fans. It was a six-figure decision, and he was right. I think it was a moment many of us will remember for a long time, his jumping from seat to seat and saying, ‘This is more comfortable. This is the right thing to do.’ “

These are the kinds of things that will endear a billionaire owner to his team’s fanbase. The renovation project is something that is needed to maintain the building as a world-class venue, but it’s not something that Vinik needs to do to keep the Forum as an acceptable place to house the Lightning. Just look at Nassau Coliseum.

From all accounts he’s doing it the right way—rethinking the entire arena to make it a more distinctive place for the Lightning to call home. More importantly, he’s making the fan experience better for the 21,500 people who show up for a home game. The team is ripping out over 500 seats to install a huge pipe organ with a bar that will be one of the arena’s new distinguishing features. As said before, they tore out eight luxury suits so the concourse is opened up for a better fan experience. There will be new, more comfortable seats all over the arena and the sightlines will be reconfigured. The list goes on and on.

On top of the $35 million, Vinik is having one of the entrances rebuilt/reconfigured (West Plaza entrance) to give the arena a “grand entry” point to serve as the face of the building. Again, the new entrance will be fully funded by Vinik in order to make the arena the best possibly location for his team and their fans. A new entrance won’t translate to any more wins on the ice, it probably won’t help lure any free agents, and it certainly won’t help the ratings on television. It just makes the Forum a more appealing place for the Lightning fans.

The moves show that ownership is behind this team for the long-haul. In an environment where the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the Coyotes are in a state of flux, and a segment of NHL fans are calling complaining about just about every sunbelt team, the move is symbolic gesture of permanence. The financial commitment says, “feel free to devote yourself to being a fan, because we aren’t going anywhere.” If you don’t think that’s important, ask a Phoenix Coyotes fans what it’s like rooting for a team when they’re never sure about the future. The Atlanta Thrashers could have used a move like this—but it’s a move that the Atlanta Spirit group never would have made.

Sixteen months ago, who would have ever uttered these words: “Lightning fans are lucky to have the owner they do.”

Fore! NHL referee makes the cut at PGA Tour’s Canadian Open

OAKVILLE, ON - JULY 22: Garrett Rank hits his second shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 22, 2016 in Oakville, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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There has always seemed to be a connection between hockey players and the game of golf. Some are better than others when it comes to the links.

Take NHL referee Garrett Rank, for example.

Rank, also an amateur golfer, has made the cut at the 2016 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club just south of Toronto. He’s currently tied for 36th at even par heading into the weekend. He also sits seven shots behind the leader, Dustin Johnson, the future son-in-law of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

Rank, who joined the NHL Officials Association in 2014, has split his time between officiating in the NHL and the American Hockey League. But, according to the PGA Tour website, he was hired as a full-time NHL ref the day before the opening round of this week’s Canadian Open.

“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t take my clubs with me when I was on the road,” he told the PGA Tour website. “I think it helps me and makes it a little easier for me because I know that this isn’t the end of the world, whether I shot 65 or 75.”

Rank, 28, is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, after initially feeling discomfort while officiating a game.

“When I got the news I tried to maintain a positive attitude,” he told the Toronto Sun. “And you know what, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. You never want to have cancer wished upon someone but I think it gave me a little better outlook in terms of a bad call on the ice wasn’t as bad. Or hitting a bad shot on the golf course wasn’t the end of the world.

“It has allowed me to stay patient and be grateful for the opportunities and things I have in life.”

Related: PHT Morning Skate: James Wisniewski caddies for PGA Tour golfer Jason Day

Price’s previous injury ‘no longer a concern,’ says Habs goalie coach

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price stops a shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in New York  (AP Photo/Paul Bereswill)
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More good news when it comes to Carey Price.

After Price had said last month he was 100 per cent healthy following an MCL sprain that ultimately ended his season, Montreal Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite reaffirmed that earlier this week in an interview with RDS. That should provide Habs fans with at least a little bit of optimism when it comes to the goalie position after a rather tumultuous summer.

“I’m not a doctor, but all I know is that on the ice it was perfect,” Waite told RDS, as per The Hockey News. “It is 100 percent restored. We are happy and our medical staff did a great job with him to bring him to the top. It is no longer a concern, he is ready to go.”

Habs fans have had a difficult few months. With Price injured, the Canadiens quickly fell out of the playoff race. The off-season has ushered in tremendous change, with the additions of Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber, while the departure of P.K. Subban in that deal with Nashville remains probably the most contentious development in the NHL during the summer.

It is still reality right now that the Habs’ success is still dependent on their goalie Price.

The 28-year-old Price last played a game on Nov. 25, so it’s difficult to imagine there wouldn’t be some initial rust when it comes to getting acclimated once again to game action.

He is also among the three goalies named to Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, which starts Sept. 17. Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford were also named to the squad.

Price started and starred for Canada in its gold-medal win at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, while Holtby and Crawford are established and accomplished NHL goalies.

“It’s a long-ways off,” said Price earlier in the spring, as per NHL.com. “I know I’ll be prepared for that.”

Recently re-signed forward Callahan in tough to make Red Wings

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Mitch Callahan signed another one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, and will look to once again make the jump to the NHL in the fall.

As per General Fanager, the deal pays $600,000 at the NHL level and $175,000 at the AHL.

A sixth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2009, Callahan, who turns 25 years old next month, has only one appearance in the NHL and that was two seasons ago. He’s spent five seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the minors, where he’s posted decent numbers, offensively, with 19 goals and 32 points last season.

But he’s also dealt with injuries, such as a torn ACL in the 2014-15 season. Or a gory injury — 10 teeth plus a broken jaw — after taking a puck to the face in an AHL game in 2014. This past season, he took another puck to the face during practice, losing another tooth.

He’s made it clear in the past that he doesn’t want to be playing in the AHL, although competition for roster spots — Callahan would have to likely work his way into a bottom-six role — in Detroit will be stiff when the Red Wings open up training camp.

From the Detroit Free Press:

He’s almost certain to be exposed on waivers again, as the Wings have 13 active forwards signed to one-way contracts, plus Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. And Anthony Mantha is expected to make a push for a spot.

Patrick Eaves bests big hockey names at Smashfest V

eavessmashbeardnhlpa
via NHLPA
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Ping Pong. Beards. Hockey players making funny faces in street clothes. And it’s all to benefit charitable organizations.

Dominic Moore‘s Smashfest V took place on Thursday, with Patrick Eaves and his freakish facial hair taking the top prize for the second year in a row.

Here’s a shot from the happy, bearded winner from the NHLPA:

(His loved ones must be thrilled that this isn’t merely a playoff look for Eaves, by the way.)

This shot of Jeff Skinner and his “most improved” award is just too fitting.

It’s not yet clear exactly how much money was raised for charity, but this is a sign that the event was probably … well, a smash success.

Good stuff. Here’s a random hodgepodge of other photos from the event.

Bonus points to Hall of Famer Eric Lindros for the “beer in other hand” form:

Alex Burrows fell to Eaves in the final round. Seems OK about it:

Antoine Roussel was probably not being a pest on this occasion. We can’t be totally certain, however.

Looks like it was a good time for all.