tampabay.com

Hey, Doug: Study past, do opposite

By GARY SHELTON
Published August 16, 2007


Now into its second smash week, by golly, you would have to say the Doug MacLean era is going along swimmingly.

So far, MacLean has not confused hockey with sake. He has not referred to his players as "pansies." Showing great restraint, he has not blamed his fax machine for anything.

I don't know about you, but in the history of Tampa Bay Lightning owners, I'd rank him second.

Silly you. You were worried, weren't you?

I know what you're thinking. It has only been a week and a half since Bill Davidson agreed to sell, and technically, MacLean hasn't gone through the check-out lane yet. How much damage could he do?

Well, plenty. If you follow the Lightning, you probably remember the Maloofs. Back in '97, Kokusai Green was so desperate to sell the franchise to the Maloof brothers that it allowed their representative to run the team's draft. Players were traded. Trades were blocked. Draft picks were mandated. And the Maloofs never did purchase the team.

In other words, we still don't know how MacLean is going to do as an owner, but all in all, he had a relatively safe first week. He didn't talk about raising ticket prices. He didn't talk about slashing budget. As far as we can tell, his unnamed investors do not include "the Duke of Manchester."

So there is hope. But let's face it. MacLean is new at this ownership thing. He's going to need all the help he can get.

Here they are, then. Eight Simple Rules for Owning Our Hockey Team.

1. Show up

This doesn't sound like much to ask until you consider that already, MacLean is about three games from setting a franchise record for attendance by an owner.

For crying out loud, we're not even sure that Takashi Okubo, the head of Kokusai Green, even existed. Give a puck to Art Williams, and he would try to open it. Davidson would use it as a coaster.

Here's a thought: Why not sit in the stands for a few games? You can even buy the beer.

2. Pony up

Around Tampa Bay, we know that the first sign of a bad owner is a reluctance to spend. Through the years, we have seen Hugh Culverhouse and Vince Naimoli and Stu Sternberg and the rest squeeze nickels so hard they leave thumbprints imbedded in them.

Look, athletes make a lot of money. That isn't going to change. Ante up, or leave the table.

3. Stand back

The gut feeling is this is going to be the difficult part for MacLean, who has been a coach (with some success) and a general manager (with none).

My favorite phrase when it comes to ownership is "controlled passion." Most owners fail on one side of the phrase or the other. Either they lack passion (Bill Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals, Bill Wirtz of the Blackhawks, Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins) or they lack control (Dan Snyder of the Redskins, Mark Cuban of the Mavericks, George Steinbrenner back in his reckless years).

It's simple. Employ good people, and let them do their jobs.

4. Be aware

Once you get to know your market, you'll see that Tampa Bay doesn't have the population of Boston or New York, and it doesn't have the number of young professionals of Denver or San Francisco. Around here, the fans seem to spend their money carefully.

In other words, entitlement does not become an owner. No one is going to buy a ticket because he thinks he owes it to you. Fans will buy because they like the Lightning, and because they like winning.

Oh, and if a scout ever uses your toilet, don't throw him out. (Of course, if it's a Flyers scout, you have permission to lock him in.)

5. Be smart

No one expects an owner to be a mascot. The big decisions are yours. So make them carefully.

Remember, former Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom was once so angered by a defeat that he ran off coach Don Shula. Oops.

Oh, and just a suggestion: If you ever fail to sign one of your draft picks, don't open the next day's news conference by singing That's What Friends Are For. Culverhouse tried that once, and by the time he got to "Keep smilin'," he didn't have any.

6. Be honest

It isn't much to ask. No one expects you to tell him everything.

Still, credibility is important. Fans have to believe you to believe in you.

Here's a thought: If you have a signed contract from Bill Parcells in your desk, don't act as if you've never heard of the guy.

7. Be a statesman

As an owner, you are now one of the guardians of the game.

On its way to rediscovering its relevance, the game could use a few new ones.

Be Art Rooney. Be Lamar Hunt. Be the older, wiser Steinbrenner. Don't be Art Modell. Don't be Marge Schott. Don't be Robert Irsay or Mike Brown or Peter Angelos.

8. Be a contender

For an owner, that's always the most important thing.

As for the Lightning, it seems to have a window of opportunity here. A good owner can be the differencemaker.

Bring home another Cup, Doug, and people around here will love you.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.