By Jim Bleyer
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik doubled down on retaining Jon Cooper, his underachieving head coach.
The former hedge fund manager and would-be developer supported Cooper in the wake of the most historic collapse in the history of North American professional sports. The Lightning, who tied a National Hockey League record for most wins, cratered in the playoffs and were swept by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in four games.
New General Manager Julien BriseBois, by praising Cooper before the cameras and at press interviews, is the one taking heat for Vinik. He understudied with the just departed Steve Yzerman but unlike him, doesn’t mind being a pawn in a losing chess match.
Cooper is a post-season embarrassment and one that Tampa Bay Beat asserts will never change (see annotation below this article). Vinik’s obstinacy in not replacing Cooper is more embarrassing; it puzzles the national sports media, has the disenchanted fan base fuming, and adds another gaffe to the Lightning owner’s burgeoning checkered resumé. For example:
As 2018 wound down, Vinik announced he wanted to run another hedge fund capitalized at $3 billion. He told a television interviewer that he would never consider investing in the cannabis industry claiming profit margins were too small.
It was reported in February that Vinik was having trouble raising capital.
His take on the current economy could be the reason savvy investors are spurning the Vinik name. In the first quarter of 2019, cannabis companies were the economy’s best performing sector. We researched profit margins of five companies and they ranged from 29 to 87 percent.
Draw your own conclusions.
Back to the Lightning mess.
The Tampa Bay Times resides in Vinik’s hip pocket and therefore is an accomplice to a host of his questionable dealings since he slithered out of Boston 10 years ago. The paper, natch, was the only media defender of not booting the clueless Cooper. Cue John Romano when Vinik needs pumping in the sports realm.
Meanwhile national talk show hosts and sports writers uniformly are reporting Cooper’s history of playoff underachievement. They are having a field day with Laugh Factory-worthy jokes about the Lightning’s monumental cataclysm.
Vinik made a triple screwup. He refused to approve Cooper’s firing following the underachieving 2017-18 season, extended Cooper’s contract in February, and now stubbornly won’t dismiss him.
Yzerman, in the last year of his contract, had his title of General Manager removed, preferring to be known only as “advisor.” He built a talented lineup only to see it crash and burn as the favorite last season in the Eastern Conference finals. The Lightning did not score in the final 152 minutes played against Washington, the eventual Stanley Cup winner.
By not being able to close the deal with the best skaters in the NHL, Cooper has cost Vinik tens of millions in gross receipts and merchandising. The value of the franchise is also undercut as the Lightning’s Stanley Cup window is shut as long as Cooper is on board.
Cooper is the most expensive coach in North American sports and that excludes his salary. Vinik apparently is content to lose tens of millions more.
(Tampa Bay Beat will wager $5,000 that the Tampa Bay Lightning will never win the Stanley Cup as long as Jon Cooper remains as head coach. It must be during his current continuous tenure no matter how long that lasts. Vinik, who truly believes he has the right coach, should be the one to take the offer. What is a measly $5,000 compared with a probable hundred million or more when Cooper finally is no longer GM for whatever reason?)