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Boston financier Jeff Vinik strikes deal to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. - Boston financier Jeff Vinik has agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning, taking on the challenge of turning around a franchise that has struggled since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Vinik is purchasing Tampa Bay Sports&Entertainment from a group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, the team said in a statement Friday. The deal is contingent on approval from the league's Board of Governors, which is expected in three-to-four weeks.

"I've been an avid hockey fan my whole life and I pledge to our fans that I will work my hardest to build the Lightning into a world class organization both on and off the ice," said Vinik, who will have sole control of the team.

Vinik agreed to buy the team, the company that operates the St. Pete Times Forum, and 2.2 hectares of land adjacent to the downtown arena. Financial terms were not disclosed, however it's believed to be substantially less than the US$206 million OK Hockey paid in June 2008.

Prior to being purchased by Koules and Barrie, the Lightning had been owned since 1999 by Palace Sports&Entertainment. It was a group led by the late Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, who helped transform Tampa Bay from a last-place team into the 2004 Stanley Cup champion.

"The day is a bittersweet one for us, as I believe we have established a strong foundation on the ice and begun to point things in a positive direction for the Lightning," said Koules, chairman of OK Hockey. "We look forward to seeing Jeff take the team from here and move it forward."

Vinik, 50, a minority owner of the Red Sox, managed Fidelity's Magellan Fund before founding Vinik Asset Management.

The Lightning announced the deal in a three paragraph statement. Vinik was not available for comment, and is expected to be formally introduced as owner and officially take control of the team when the sale closes in a few weeks.

Koules is a Hollywood producer and Barrie, a former NHL player who's now a real estate developer in Canada. One of their first moves as co-owners was to lure Barry Melrose out of retirement to coach the Lightning, a move that lasted 16 games.

Tampa Bay, led by coach Rick Tocchet and stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, was in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday's NHL games. Brian Lawton is the general manager.

The Lightning host the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.



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