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.”

The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Should Erik Gudbranson get suspended for boarding Frank Vatrano?

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The Boston Bruins power play made Erik Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks pay with three goals during the major for his hit on Frank Vatrano, but the NHL might decide to go further.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Gudbranson, 25, will receive a Friday hearing for the boarding check. The league tends to be vague about this, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that it’s expected to being an interview over the phone, rather than the in-person variety that can bring about harsher punishments.

Vatrano returned to the Bruins’ eventual 6-3 win against the Canucks, yet there’s a chance that he might have a setback. (Knowing Boston’s recent luck, don’t count on good news until you see it.)

Watch the video and Gudbranson’s fight with Tim Schaller in the video above, via Hockey Fights.

Fans responded to that announcement by pointing out one of Thursday’s other questionable hits: Zack Kassian on Ryan Hartman, which only drew a minor penalty:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

***

Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

MORE: Gudbranson faces hearing for hit

***

So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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