Report: Lightning CEO helping Seattle NHL investors

The past week ramped up more developments in a drive to bring the NHL to Seattle and it appears a Tampa Bay Lightning executive is helping those efforts.

In between all of its reporting on alternative arena locations in the Seattle area, The Seattle Times uncovered that there could be more than one investor group in play to bring pro hockey to Washington state.

The report says that Minnesota Wild vice chairman Jac Sperling is teaming up with friend and Lightning CEO and minority owner Tod Leiweke to find investors for an ownership group to bring the NHL to Seattle:

Leiweke and Sperling recently were reunited in Tampa Bay, as co-advisers to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in his $1 billion “Channelside” development around the team’s Amalie Arena. Leiweke declined to comment for this story, except to say that Sperling’s business deals are his own and he has not been approached to join any NHL or NBA ownership group here.

Cave said it was Leiweke who arranged his phone introduction to Sperling. Leiweke in September 2013 spent $3 million to purchase a Mercer Island waterfront home — once owned by Seahawks coach Mike Holm­gren — and spent much of last summer in Seattle.

At one point, Sperling flew here as Leiweke’s guest and was introduced to various sports and business figures. Two people who’ve spent time with him are Sounders owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer.

Hanauer and Leiweke remain close friends from their days launching the Sounders under the Seahawks banner. They vacationed together last month in the Caribbean.

Leiweke and Sperling were both executives together with the Wild and Leiweke has a home in Seattle as the Times reports, thanks to his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

There’s a naivety to me that wants to see it like this: Leiweke is not going to leave the Lightning and form or be part of a new ownership group for a Seattle NHL team. Instead, these are two friends, who are powerful businessman, helping find the right people to make a Seattle franchise work in terms of money and management structure.

It’s not unheard of team executives or owners from other franchises in a league to help find people that could be part of a new club. Finding the right owners helps lift the value of the league and profits for the owners.

It’s also a regular occurrence to see minority owners to look for a new investment that could make them a majority owner, leading the Times drops this nugget:

That’s why, as long as Leiweke maintains a seven-figure property here, with connections to Sperling and local sports figures, he’ll loom as a potential player in any future Seattle franchise. As a sitting CEO and part-owner of the Lightning, however, Leiweke could never link himself to a Seattle project until an expansion team is in hand.

Sperling would be a man Gary Bettman would covet as part of a new franchise in the ilk of how Las Vegas ownership is testing its market before expansion—a ticket drive. Sperling was in charge of a drive to sell 10,000 season tickets in New Orleans for the NBA Pelicans, relocating from Charlotte as the former Hornets.

Enough of the innocent thoughts.

For Leiweke, he’s proven he can right the ship of a franchise in an non-traditional market and help repair the damage from unstable owners. Now that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is on cruise control with the Lightning, how much does Leiweke want to stick around to help spearhead the redevelopment of Channelside and the surrounding property along Amalie Arena? That’s a 20-year master plan that will take five years before you see the start of major activity and change.

His brother Tim Leiweke is leaving the massive company that oversees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Air Canada Center and other properties to form his own business and company. Tim Leiweke said last year that he was charged to change the culture of the organization, which had to figure out how two media conglomerates would run sports businesses. His brother did much of the same in Tampa helping Vinik navigate the NHL.

The two brothers have had their own very successful careers doing similar things—running behometh sports and entertainment companies and empires. This could very well be their time to form their own group, having the brothers work together for the first time as co-owners.

Tim Leiweke’s new business could be in arena/event and artist management, according to a Bloomberg report last fall. Tim Leiweke is talking to Irving Azoff, former chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, who is mainly known as the company who books and runs events and now owns Ticketmaster.

That all brings us to this: If you have a NHL tenant ready to go and no NBA tenant, you need to fill up an arena’s schedule. Why pay another firm like Live Nation or Comcast-Spectacor to do it when you have people who can do it themselves? The Leiwekes and company could.

Remember that Tim Leiweke was with AEG, the company that owns the L.A. Kings, Staples Center, LA Live complex, Manchester United and a bevy of other sports and entertainment properties. In Tampa, his brother Tod was just trying to get that kind of momentum started for Vinik’s waterfront vision around Amalie Arena.

That all brings us back to the Seattle Times report. There are 66 acres in Seattle suburb Tukwila that real estate owner David Sabey controls and wants to turn into a multi-use sports and entertainment district that his spokesman acknowledge that an arena could fit in that vision. Moreover, son Jim Sabey is also in the entertainment business overseeing marketing with Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, very much in line with what Tim Leiweke’s pursuing to form.

They know the right people. Tim’s ready to exit Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by June 30 and Tod just cleared a major hurdle for Vinik’s redevelopment for a true Tampa arena district.

I wouldn’t doubt at all Tim and Tod Leiweke could be part of a new Seattle NHL ownership group.

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Ice time is always a challenge no matter what

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and complaints about ice time.

No matter where you’re ice is at, convenient ice time is hard to come by.

Much of that is because the predominant users—adult and youth leagues—crave evening ice slots. Somewhere in that comfortable zone between 6 to 9:30 p.m. During the weekends, the kids get all the Saturday times they can get with an occasional Sunday morning or afternoon game. Adults will take the late afternoon through late night scraps.

Whether that ice rink is in a hockey hotbed or in a remote location, not everyone is going to get great a prime time slot.

A local high school sports reporter for The Washington Post documented the woes finding ice time in the DMV area:

At 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday in mid-January, the St. Mary’s Ryken ice hockey team took the ice at Capital Clubhouse in Waldorf for its weekly practice. The harsh fluorescent light contrasted with the inky pre-dawn of a cold, drab day. In the windowless rink area, parents sat around picnic tables with large coffees and stared at their smartphones, chatted with each other or simply looked out at the Knights’ practice.

Yup, that’s 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday for a practice. It’s not unheard of high school football and basketball players having two-a-days or even pre-school practices, but at least the gym and field is at the school. I know that The Ice Gardens in Laurel, which has one of the largest adult hockey programs on the East Coast, has an early morning adult league through the week, but that’s more of a function of plenty of folks with government or government contractor jobs that need to get their reps in before they stand still on the Beltway.

That rink, which has four sheets plus an outdoor 3-on-3 rink added in 2013, is crazy business regardless of the type of hockey. My friend Doug who I played with in high school said he is on a waiting list for pick-up hockey. That’s not so pick-up and go, huh?

Down here in Ellenton, Fla., well-to-do guys with flexible schedule and retirees routinely fill up mid-afternoon pick-up slots during the week. I’ve documented before a few times how University of South Florida’s hockey team drives down to Ellenton for home games and University of Florida’s club team in Gainesville drives 90 minutes-plus to Orlando and Jacksonville for practice and home games.

I’m sure in certain communities in Massachusetts and Minnesota have ice time issues, too, because of a high demand. But you got to remember that ice is expensive and rinks need great management to make a profit. For players, there’s a balance of cost, time of day, length of time and distance and time of drive that factor in committing to playing. Personally, I drove 90 minutes from Sarasota, Fla., to Oldsmar to play hockey two years ago because the league was free for goalies, the ice times were great on late Sunday afternoon to evening and the 90-minute drive was relatively easy. Plus I’d have at least an hour of ice time. If I see pick-up or games that were only 60 minutes, it wouldn’t be worth my time. Make it 90 to 120 minutes and I’ll make the drive.

Outside of commuting issue, ice rinks can go belly-up in a hurry for a myriad of reasons.

So many things can go wrong for ice rinks

On the management side, it was a tough go 16 years ago or so for ice rinks in Maryland—especially in the Hagerstown area and extending into a nearby Pennsylvania town.

My hometown rink, the Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex, had several management changes quickly after it opened in 1997, shady characters, an unfinished rink and so much debt that the city temporarily closed it and wanted to turn it into a flea market. For many, the location isn’t convenient because it’s not off an interstate exit but it’s in a park setting that help push plans forward for the old Hagerstown Fairgrounds to be turned into a multi-sports park. It’s a beautiful park with the ice rink there, but there could always be a better location to get more traffic.

Hagerstown Ice is on its feet today and maybe, finally, will get showers and new locker rooms and if things go well, a new sheet of ice could be built in the next decade. The rink is running in the black, can pay off bills and repairs. The adult league now has grown and split into two—six upper league teams and six lower league teams.

When I returned for a quick visit in December, one of my friends who volunteers at the rink said the management made simple changes to bring in revenue again. They adjusted the public skate time and Zam the ice once or twice during public skate to force people off the ice and head for the concession stand. The rink would do this in the early days but for a time just stopped altogether as a penny-pinching move to save on Zam maintenance and water costs that proved to be a pound foolish.

If you want an example of when everything goes wrong look no further than the Doris I. Billow Ice Arena. Just northeast of Hagerstown near Waynesboro, Pa., a better Olympic ice rink [in appearance only] was built thanks to money left over from an estate but after opening in 1997 months after the Hagerstown rink opened 30 minutes down the road, the $2.5 million rink closed in 2001 because of foreclosure and was sold at auction in 2003 and ended up as an indoor tennis complex. The rink received a fair share of state and local money to support it.

Part of its failure, as the Herald-Mail reported, was its location. Did anyone not hire a good real estate or business manager? Evidently not. One group wanted to build in Greencastle, Pa., off of a heavily traveled Interstate 81 and five miles made all the difference back then. The Zullinger site, near Waynesboro, had no draw to it. It was a small village with a mom-and-pop grocery store, a pizza place and a used car lot on the way to somewhere else yet in the middle of nowhere despite its location. It’s a little more developed today but not by much. But as the newspaper reported, the issue was resolved in court and the wrong side—thinking hyperlocal instead of regional—won. Here’s how it played out back then, according to the former executive director of the non-profit at the time, L. Michael Ross:

“It was intended to be a regional facility that would include Washington County,” Ross said.

When officials in Maryland saw that construction of an ice rink in Franklin County was being delayed by legal wrangling, they decided to build a rink in Hagerstown, Ross said. When that happened, a financial resource dried up for Pennsylvania, he said.

In certain categories both the Hagerstown and Zullinger rinks had great demand and filled up and the youth teams were very competitive. In bantam hockey we could actually travel and go to Waynesboro and play other teams (multiple!) instead of beating up against the one other team at our rink and getting our asses whooped by the Frederick teams. Eventually the Cumberland Valley Flames would form and then instead of being involved in the Capital Beltway Hockey League against Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia teams, they opted to play in a league that would take them to Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey and even New York.

Remember how this post was about ice time? Once Zullinger shuttered, both the adult and youth teams tried to play in Hagerstown but depending on what you read or who you talk to, either weren’t welcome or didn’t like the ice time options. Granted, at that time the Hagerstown rink management wasn’t great either with running its own rink and had a contentious relationship with the Waynesboro rink. What saved Hagerstown was that the city was willing to bail it out and eventually found the right nonprofit to manage the rink. The Waynesboro rink was owned by a private non-profit and the township didn’t want to buy it.

It was short-sighted at the time in so many ways for both sides. Take the ice time because is the drive to Frederick seriously a better option? For the Adams County players, maybe. But at the time, the Hagerstown adult league only had four to five teams. Once the Zullinger rink closed, that bumped up to six to eight depending on the year until a recent surge in adult novice hockey. Players came anyway, but not as a league. Just individual teams joining a new league. Depending where other Zullinger adult and youth players lived, they either hoofed it to Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg, Pa., or to Frederick.

Stop and go in FredCo

About 40 minutes east of Hagerstown in Frederick—a much larger city and more metropolitan than Hagerstown—the then-Frederick Sports and Ice Arena went into bankruptcy in 1998 with two sheets of ice. From what I recall, there’s a door in the pro shop that leads to an enormous empty area where a third sheet was to be built. Please let me know if I’m wrong, but I was told years ago that the third sheet of ice was intended to have about 2,000 seats or so for a higher tier junior team that never materialized.

Bankruptcy didn’t do much because the mortgage wasn’t being paid so it was nearly sold at a foreclosure auction. Despite the financial woes, the rink never closed its doors and a local businessman and his sister purchased the rink in 1999 and renamed it Skate Frederick. The facility is very busy, but there’s still grumblings of people not liking how either their league is organized or other managerial issues that face most rinks.

More ice

Bright spots do exist for more ice in Maryland. Bowie, Md., is building a new sports complex that includes two ice sheets—one NHL and one Olympic—to be completed in 2018. It looks likely—though not entirely clear in public documents and published reports—that the complex would replace the 1971 Bowie Ice Arena. That’s unfortunate on two fronts. One, closing the rink would get rid of a beautiful wood ceiling that has to be the best ice rink ceiling I’ve ever played under. Two, the rink was heavily renovated in 2004 to add a new entrance, locker and meeting rooms, a pro shop and other amenities.

Sure, that was 10 years ago but the rink still looks young with the renovations. Granted, a new refrigeration system and new dasherboards were needed for $1 million but the city opted to move those funds and put it toward a new ice rink. I hope that an ice rink management company buys the old Bowie rink or a philanthropist commits to renovate the existing ice arena to give the area three rinks and save that wood ceiling.

I feel like that Hagerstown sheet is a ways away, and Mountain Maryland still has a void thanks to Cumberland’s rink closure a decade ago. That Hagerstown sheet would bring in more people from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, more folks from Winchester, Va., and south central Pennsylvania. With Cumberland, you have a snowier climate to deal with for players willing to commute and a more rural area. Sure, a couple of players could come from as far as the outskirts of Morgantown, W.Va., and a few from Bedford, Pa., who could be skating in Johnstown or Altoona right now. (And yes, selfishly from Frostburg, too.)

I haven’t followed the woes of ice rinks in metropolitan Baltimore and D.C. enough to figure out how many additional rinks the area would have other than knowing that months after the Reisterstown Sportsplex opened in February 2008 the Northwest Ice Rink in Baltimore closed.

Here’s a lesson to be learned from any of the rinks mentioned: Always have an extra million dollars tucked away before you open and have that as a contingency fund. Which honestly, means get enough private money in advance to not have a mortgage. The Zullinger rink owed $1.8 million in its foreclosure. Bowie rink repairs? $1 million. The Hagerstown rink’s losses, which were around $200,000 to $300,000 a year, were saved by the city each year as the city worked to pay off the loan and help out the rink with utility payments. Not a lot of cities would have done that.

I’ve written enough on this blog whether it was Maryland rinks, Florida rinks (and specifically one in Lakewood Ranch when I wrote for Patch) or in what should be a hockey hotbed of Erie, Pa. Ice rinks can easily run themselves into financial crises if not managed correctly—whether it’s bookkeeping, long-range planning, proper maintenance, marketing or community relations or not protecting itself from a lack of interest because of NHL lockouts.

But even if all these rinks succeeded and more sheets of ice were to be built, you will always run into a player, an organization, and figure skaters, too, complain about ice time.

What legendary Wisconsin goalie coach Bill Howard taught in the ’90s

As I’m readying for my move back to Maryland I found in my files a collection of handouts my midget goalie coach gave me in high school.

Anyway, my coach was a Quebec native named Claude Dube. He moved down to south central Pennsylvania to work for construction equipment maker JLG. Instead of preaching butterfly goaltending and everything that Patrick Roy would do, he instead showed me videos and handouts from Bill Howard, now retired assistant coach and goalie coach at the University of Wisconsin, help leading the team to six NCAA championships. He also developed Jim Carey, Mike Richter, Curtis Joseph and Brian Elliott before stepping down in 2008.


Howard still runs camps and can be found at http://www.greatgoalies.net. My family could never afford a camp because it was taxing enough just to pay for travel hockey let alone everything else with school and this is one camp I wish I would have attended just to learn straight from the source. We did watch a lengthy video detailing all of this and it looks like on the website that Howard has two DVDs for sale that explain this and newer techniques. It’s worth it if you’re a young goaltender.

Howard would update his techniques like any goalie coach but his foundation was much of the same. My first year of midget hockey was in 1999, so these were likely a few years old by the time I got my hands on them.

For the benefit of goalies out there, I’ll retype all the drills here and scan some old charts. I’m doing this in a bit of reverse order with the meat of Howard’s techniques first. Another handout that explains the stances, stick positions, etc., follows the Fundamentals of Goaltending.

Fundamentals of Goaltending: Controlling The Game

By Bill Howard, Assistant Coach Univ. of Wisconsin

I. PHASE ONE OF GOALTENDING: GOALIE STANCES, MOVEMENTS AND PLAYING THE ANGLES

A. The five proper goalie stances, when and how to use them:

  1. Normal. Don’t rest on your inside edges and have the stick always on the ice
  2. Open. For long shots, have legs spread further apart toward the shoulders.
  3. Closed. Play from the side of the net. Glove on the ice, pad closed
  4. V-Stance. Shots in close from 5 feet out and for rebounds.
  5. Scramble. Rebounds in tight.

B. The five proper ways to move in the net, when and how to use them

  1. Glide & Slide: Used the most to move around the crease
  2. X Over: Moving dot to dot
  3. Diagonal-Up: Diagonal passes
  4. Diagonal Slide: Diagonal passe in close
  5. When Caught Off Angle: Move to middle of net and stop.

C. Playing the angles: when and how to use the four segments of the net and the rink

FILE: Playing The Angles

  1. Try and play only 1 segment for any given shot
  2. Always be stopped, set in the proper stance and square to the puck
  3. Take the short side away (thus you’re playing only 1/2 of the net)
  4. Only move 1/2 of your body to make the save

Remember in the course of the game a goalie will move many more times then he will stop the puck. Therefore, moving correctly and being in the right stance and on the angle as close as possible will make stopping and controlling the puck much easier.

II. PHASE TWO OF GOALTENDING: CONTROLLING THE SHOT AND THE PUCK

  • Having the proper balance: proper body control and puck control when making the save
  • Having the proper balance points
  • Having the proper weight transfer: includes upper and lower body weight transfer
  • Having the proper angle of deflection

Remember it is not enough to just stop the puck. A goalie can control the shot, the puck and the game.

III. PHASE THREE OF GOALTENDING: THE FUNDAMENTALS AND TECHNIQUES TO MAKING ALL TYPES OF GOALIE SAVES

A. When and how to use the goalie stick for saves and game situations

  1. Stick saves: limited and full extension
  2. Poke checking: knowing your range and being able to recover. [Put a mark on ice to visualize]
  3. Passing the puck: forehand, backhand and shuffle

B. The five types of pad saves: when and how to use them

  1. Limited: Within stance, tight and in close shots
  2. Full extension: Shot from far distance
  3. Diagonal to the post
  4. Diagonal slide to the post
  5. Pad save from V stance

C. The two types of V saves: when and how to use them

[This was left blank by my coach. This probably explains a lot. But I can tell you that there are pad V stance saves for shots and deflections along the ice and then glove/stick saves from higher shots. Key for this style of play is to keep the glove and blocker up high and not close to the pad like the newer styles teach.]

D. The four types of glove saves (limited and full extensions): when and how to use them

  1. Low glove: limited within stance for shots 4-5 feet
  2. Full extension: low, middle and high
  3. Limited: low, middle and high
  4. Arm pit save: limited and full upper

IV: OTHER PHASES OF GOALTENDING

A. Handling the puck in different game situations

  1. Stopping the puck behind the net
  2. Leaving the puck properly for the defenseman
  3. Clearing the puck
  4. Making breakout passes

B. The Set of 18: repetition of learned skills and conditioning (see below)

Remember there is more to playing goalie than just stopping the puck. A goalie must be under control, restrict his movement, have the proper balance, weight transfer, angle of deflections and puck control.

THE SET OF 18

A review and summary of every type of save you will have to make in the net. This is to be done in order with the proper technique and you must always return to the basic normal goalie stance. You must also have the proper balance, weight transfer, body control and angle of movement.

The key to being a great goaltender is having the confidence to make any save at any time without having to think about how to make the save.

  1. Rocking your skates while maintaining the basic goalie stance
  2. Limited stick and pad save to the left
  3. Limited stick and pad save to the right
  4. Down in the V stance, shooting the pads out to both sides
  5. Full extension pad save to the left
  6. Full extension pad save to the right
  7. Diagonal slide pad save to the left
  8. Diagonal slide pad save to the right
  9. Moving stick save/pokecheck three times while moving across the net
  10. Full extension low glove save to the left
  11. Full extension low glove save to the right
  12. Full extension middle glove save to the left
  13. Full extension middle glove save to the right
  14. Full extension high glove save to the left
  15. Full extension high glove save to the right
  16. Down in the V save position and back up
  17. Down in the scramble position and freeze the puck
  18. Diving pokecheck from the basic stance and back up

On Ice Techniques: Review of the 11 Basics of Goaltending

A. The Basic Stance

  1. Your skates/feet should be slightly apart
  2. Knees should be slightly bent and weight slightly forward
  3. The gloves should be at your side just off the hip and open
  4. The stick should be placed away from your skates 3 to 4 inches out in front of you with the blade on the ice at all times
  5. You should adjust your stance based on the situation and distance of the puck (use 1 of the 5 stances).

B. Maintaining the Proper Balance

  1. Proper weight distribution over your skates (stay off the inside edges and don’t be back on your heels for any shot)
  2. Have a balance point and the proper weight transfer (always give with the puck)

C. Moving in the Net

  1. Use 1 of the 5 methods to move based on the game situation
  2. Always stay square to the puck and be stopped and set before the shot
  3. You will move many more times in a game than you will make saves. Getting there correctly therefore becomes extremely important

D. Playing the Angles

  1. Play the net and goal as 4 segments. Play one segment at a time for any given shot. Do not try and play the whole net.
  2. Check each rink and find your reference points for your angles
  3. Most of your movements should be in the arc, not straight back in
  4. Line up your angle on the puck not the shooter
  5. Set up early when the play is in neutral ice
  6. Hold your position! Most goalies over-move or commit too early

E. Proper Use of the Stick

  1. Learn your proper range for shots on the ice
  2. DO not get off balance when making stick saves. Maintain the basic stance
  3. Give with the shots directly at you and either deflect or control
  4. Learn to use your stick to pokecheck and break up passes in the scoring area. Always be able to recover properly if you miss the puck in these situations
  5. Be able to pass and clear the puck with the proper velocity. Arm strength is very important

F. Blockage and Control of SHots

  1. Time, distance and your level of quickness determine how much of your body will be able to get in front of the puck
  2. Always give with the puck. Let the puck come to you!
  3. On long shots get your whole body in front of the puck and on closer shots make the save with only 1/2 of your body

G. Kick Skate Save

  1. Timing of the skate with the stick as the puck comes is the key to this save
  2. Use only to kick the puck out from in front of your traffic or to kick pass the puck to a play or out of the zone

H. Pad Saves

  1. Time and distance once again will dictate which type of pad save to use
  2. Control or direct the puck with the proper balance. You must give with every shot and provide a cushion for control
  3. Proper balance points and weight transfer are essential for not allowing a second shot or to be in position if there is a second shot
  4. Do not “stack the pads” to make a save

I. Glove Saves

  1. Your feet/skates dictate the distance and control when making a glove save
  2. The position of your gloves will vary according to the distance the shot is taken from
  3. Always give with the shot, don’t grab at the puck. Make the save at your side or slightly behind your with the proper balance and weight transfer
  4. When a full extension is necessary you must lower the shoulder, transfer the weight and straighten out your arm

J. Controlling Rebound

  1. Always give with the puck and let the puck come to you
  2. Proper angle of deflection so that all shots are places out of the scoring area
  3. Once again, to control the puck you must have proper balance and weight transfer. This also allows you to be ready for a second shot if you do give a rebound
  4. When freezing the puck, always use your stick to bring the puck to you and to protect your glove as you cover the puck.

K. Communication with the Team

  1. Read the situation when the play is in neutral ice and let your players know what the play may be (especially the numeric situation)
  2. Be verbal with your defenseman, but only as needed. Don’t over-talk!

One last key note: A goalie should train himself to restrict his movements and to stay on his feet as much as possible. Many goalies over move or go down too soon and end up creating an opening that didn’t exist.