For Lightning players, playoffs trump payroll

BY foxsports • January 25, 2010

If Lightning players are worried about reports the team twice needed help to meet payroll, it is buried under the normal stress of the season.

No surprise, then, defenseman Mattias Ohlund said it does no good to fret about things you cannot control. And while captain Vinny Lecavalier said, "Obviously, you take notice," the focus is on "the guys in the room."

In other words, right wing Marty St. Louis said, "The day we're going to miss a paycheck, I think guys are going to start asking questions. But we're getting paid, so we go out and play."

The degree of Tampa Bay's difficulties came to light Thursday, when the SportsBusiness Daily Web site reported television rights holder Sun Sports in April advanced the team $2 million to help it meet last season's final payroll. It also reported the league helped Tampa Bay meet January's obligations by advancing it some of the revenue sharing money it will receive after the season.

All that against a backdrop that includes estranged owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie and a team for sale that, according to media reports, is in default on its debt to former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment.

"You become resilient to it, immune to it," coach Rick Tocchet said. "You don't even think about it. You just kind of block everything out and have that bunker mentality."

But in an age of instant communication and media saturation, news is difficult to filter. Still, Tocchet said, the team's finances is not a topic the coaches bring up in the locker room.

"You have to keep guys focused on the game," he said, "keep guys focused on their play, keep guys focused on the team."

The Lightning has plenty on which to concentrate, in particular tonight's game with the Thrashers. Atlanta and Tampa Bay are three and four points, respectively, out of the East's final playoff spot.

With ticket sales the lifeblood of NHL franchises and the Lightning 23rd in the league in announced attendance, winning such games could help the bottom line, Ohlund said:

"You do feel the responsibility to perform. If we perform the way we can, then more people are in the building and the better the financial situation."

"I know they've had issues here the past two years," added the big Swede, who last summer signed a seven-year, free agent contract, "but I also know it's not too many years ago that this franchise had a great team with sold-out buildings. If we play the way I know we can, I'm sure we'll have more fans in the building."

As for the financial problems themselves, players said they are background noise during a playoff push.

"It's a time we have to isolate ourselves," Lecavalier said. "There is a business side to hockey, and in the summer, OK, you can talk about it. But during the season we have to keep focused on what we have to do."

"We haven't missed a paycheck," St. Louis said, "so I'm not concerned with it."

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