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.”

John Gibson has been terrific since the start of 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09:  John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks protects the net during the season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on October 9, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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By trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto, the Anaheim Ducks were essentially crowning John Gibson as their starting goaltender, but he didn’t get off to such a hot start.

Gibson dropped his first three decisions of the season and it took a while for him to look comfortable as the go-to guy for the Ducks.

It’s not totally unexpected that a 23-year-old goalie would struggle to find consistency in his first full year as a starter, but Gibson and his team were able to weather the storm and it’s paid off in a big way.

He’s been terrific since late-December and that continued on Sunday, as he made 24 saves in a 1-0 shutout win over the rival Kings.

Since Dec. 27, Gibson has put up a 1.98 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage. Both those numbers are tops in the NHL. He also leads all goalies in shutouts after Jan. 1 with four.

“This time of the season, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Gibson said after the win over Los Angeles, per NHL.com. “Going into the playoffs and towards the end of the year, games are going to be tight. There’s not much room for error, so you have to be pretty good.”

Anaheim is currently in third in the Pacific Division with 72 points in 60 games. They have the same amount of points as second-place Edmonton, but the Oilers have a game in a hand. Both the Ducks and Oilers trail the division-leading Sharks by five points.

If Gibson can continue playing the way he is right now, he’ll give his team a shot at the division crown or at least home ice advantage.

PHT Morning Skate: ECHL jersey retirement ceremony goes embarrassingly wrong

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–Coming into this season, not many people thought of Sidney Crosby as a goal scorer. But if you look at the numbers closely, you’ll see that he can fill the net with the best of them. How does he do it? His wrist and snap shots are deadly. He scores 47.4 percent of his goals on those two shots. (Sports Illustrated)

–Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat dropped to the second round because of size (he’s 5-foot-9), but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up incredible OHL numbers. Even though he’s small by NHL standards, his former junior teammate, Connor McDavid, has no doubt that he can succeed at the next level. “He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do.” (CSN Chicago)

Charlie Coyle‘s 88-year-old grandma got to watch him play Xcel Energy Center for the first time and she was thrilled about it. She joined the Wild broadcast to talk about her grandson. FYI, this sweet lady went skydiving for her 80th birthday! (NHL.com)

–The beauty of the NHL is that anybody can beat anybody on any given night and the Detroit Red Wings proved that on Sunday with their big 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights of that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Retired pilot Ron Daley is 80 years old, but he still manages to play ice hockey. The “veteran” goalie plays in a suburb of Montreal every Monday afternoon and he’s having a blast. “Everybody I know who plays hockey loves the game, just like me, and would love to play as long as they can. If they let them play on crutches, they’d probably still be playing.” (Montreal Gazette)

–Gare Joyce of the New York Times wrote a great piece about the challenges of being a scout in the NHL. They log a lot of miles, watch a lot of games, but they can quickly get lost in the shuffle over the years. Joyce writes about a scout named Fred, who worked hard, won a Stanley Cup, but couldn’t find work after he was let go by his team. (New York Times)

–Be careful what you predict in a newspaper. One KHL reporter learned that the hard way after he predicted that Dinamo Minsk wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs. Once they secured a spot in the postseason, the reporter sat down and ate the article he wrote. Seriously. (Yahoo)

–The ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets retired Colin Chaulk’s number prior to their game on Saturday night. That’s a very special honor for any player at any level, but this jersey retirement ceremony went terribly wrong. The banner was unveiled upside down, but the team decided to go ahead with the ceremony anyway. General manager David Franke referred to it as “the most embarrassing thing I’ve been part of in 27 years with the club.” (BarDown)

Johansen is a ‘little disappointed’ the Blue Jackets didn’t recognize him in return to Columbus

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 19:  Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Ryan Johansen played 309 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets before a blockbuster trade to Nashville last January.

On Sunday, he finally made his return back to Columbus as a member of the Predators. However, he did not receive any sort of tribute whatsoever from the team that originally selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, and that is something that apparently bothered him.

“I am a little disappointed they didn’t put anything on the Jumbotron and say ‘thank you’ or anything like that,” Johansen told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “I think we all know who made that call, but whatever.”

While Johansen enjoyed some productive seasons with the Blue Jackets, his time in Columbus, particularly his final months, were dogged with contentious headlines about his contract negotiations with the club and then his working relationship with coach John Tortorella.

Johansen, now 24 years old, has nine goals and 40 points in 58 games this season for Nashville. Currently in the final year of his three-year, $12 million contract, he’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Make that four straight wins for the Bruins

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Brent Burns turned in a dominating performance. But Brad Marchand had the last laugh.

Marchand scored his 25th goal of the season and, more importantly, the overtime winner for the Boston Bruins as they defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Sunday.

That’s Boston’s fourth consecutive win since the controversial coaching change — which took another twist earlier in the week when the rival Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and hired Claude Julien. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Marchand bolted up the ice for the breakaway pass, on what appeared to be a set play, beating Martin Jones through the legs.

The Bruins move back into third in the Atlantic Division, and are now only four points back of the faltering Habs for first.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were unable to fully capitalize on another freakish Brent Burns outing. He’s been dubbed ‘an unstoppable force’ in recent posts at PHT — a defenseman possessing great size at six-foot-five-inches tall and 230 pounds, but no shortage of mobility and offensive talent with 27 goals and 64 points in 60 games. Um, and did we mention he’s a defenseman. . . ?

Against the Bruins, he had 20 shot attempts — by far the most of any player in this game — in just over 26 minutes of ice time.

Given the final score, that probably doesn’t mean much to Brad Marchand.