Lightning expands Community Heroes program

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TAMPA — Since Jeff Vinik purchased the Lightning in 2010, it has won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships and his Community Heroes program has donated more than $23 million to the Tampa Bay community.

Now, Vinik has another reason to celebrate: he and his wife, Penny, have announced an extension of the program, pledging $10 million over the next five years.

“We’re so proud of this community hero program,” Vinik said. “It’s a part of the DNA of the Lightning and we love honoring our heroes...and one thing you learn is the endless need (in the community).”

Since launching the program in 2011, the Viniks have provided $50,000 to each of 450 local heroes in the Tampa Bay area. These heroes are celebrated at home games during the second TV timeout with a player sharing that hero’s story in a video.

The hope has always been that those who are in the building for Lightning games will recognize the endless need in their own communities and be inspired to give back via their time or money to help others.

With 10 years in the books, the Viniks have decided to throw in some new twists to the program, including players and coaches now being able to nominate philanthropic causes in the area for the $50,000 grant.

“Players love this (program), they are inspired by all of this, they all read the story of the hero at each of our home games,” Vinik said. “(We wanted to get them more involved) and said, let’s let them pick some heroes, let’s let them pick some charities, things that are important to them or things that they are seeing going on that they think should be honored in this way.”

Are Coleman, Savard on their way out?

Forward Blake Coleman and defenseman David Savard already could have one foot out the Lightning’s door, according to reports.

Coleman “is moving on to the next chapter of his career” and will enter the free agency market on Wednesday, David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period tweeted Monday night. “Tampa’s current cap situation doesn’t make a return possible,” he added.

Savard also is expected to hit the market, TVA’s Renauld Lavoie reporting that a sign and trade deal now seems “less likely.”

If Coleman hits the market, the Lightning will have to replace their entire third line, having previously traded wing Barclay Goodrow to the Rangers and losing center Yanni Gourde to Seattle in the expansion draft.

Savard added depth to the Lightning’s blueline this postseason and assisted on Ross Colton’s Cup-clinching goal.

Boat parades were ‘two of the most fun days’ of Vinik’s life

Celebrations like the Lightning’s boat parade July 12 on the Hillsborough River, followed by the rainy outing at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in Tampa, is what owners like Vinik dream about.

“It doesn’t get any better than that once,” he said, “and it doesn’t get any better than that twice.”

Vinik said he “learned to ham it up a little bit” after 2020′s experience and enjoy himself a bit more.

“It’s like (Nikita Kucherov) says, one or two days a year you get to see his personality,” Vinik joked. “And plus, it’s a day of the year where I get to celebrate with the players and be a little more than my normal, steady personality.”

Vinik’s day with the Cup will come in the fall

Vinik said he’s more than happy to wait his turn for his day with the Cup, allowing players, coaches and even players from last season’s team to get their chance first.

“We got quite a bit of time with it after we won last year,” Vinik said. “So (we’re letting) other people have a chance and we’ll start thinking about that in the fall.”

Vinik said by waiting until later, he hopes to see the Cup with everyone’s names engraved on it. It was a rare opportunity the franchise got last year, and one Vinik was fond enough of to want again.

“That’s going to be very exciting to see those side by side on the Cup,” Vinik said. “But right now, our plan’s to let those who have the mental and physical fortitude to go 32-13 in the playoffs over the last two years, let them have their time with it in their communities.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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