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Group led by former Blue Jackets GM MacLean agrees to buy Lightning

"Absolute zero thought of that," MacLean said at a news conference following the surprise sale by Palace Sports and Entertainment, a group headed by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

"Typically, you come into a situation where ownership has been an issue," MacLean added. "We're following a great ownership group that took the Tampa Bay franchise and really put it on the map."

MacLean coached the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup final in 1996. He was fired in April as the Columbus Blue Jackets' president and general manager.

Davidson bought the Lightning in 1999 and helped transform the club from a perennial last-place team struggling to sell tickets into a franchise that won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and has made the playoffs the past four seasons.

The one thing Davidson couldn't do, though, was make the Lightning profitable.

Team officials have said the club has lost more than US$70 million under current ownership, and that the only season the club made money was during its championship run.

Still, the sale caught many in the organization off-guard.

Although current Lightning chairman and governor Tom Wilson said talks with MacLean's Absolute Hockey Enterprises had been ongoing for about six weeks, the team was never formally placed on the market by Davidson.

"We really weren't (for sale)," Wilson said. "But one thing he always said, even to (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman years ago, is 'I'll know when the time is right. But the one thing I want to promise you is if and when the time comes, we're going to sell it to the right people.

"Passionate hockey people, people with Florida roots so we can have local ownership. ... And, it's going to be people who are committed to the game."

The purchase agreement also includes the leasing rights to the St. Pete Times Forum and properties adjacent to the downtown arena.

MacLean declined to discuss the purchase price, saying the sale still is subject to approval by the NHL's board of governors.

He was joined at a news conference by fellow investors Jeff Sherrin, a Coral Springs real estate developer, and Oren Koules, a Los Angeles TV and movie producer who once played minor league hockey.

All three said they plan to move to the Tampa Bay area. In all, there will about nine or 10 principal owners.

"This is something we're taking very seriously," Koules said. "This isn't a toy for us. This is our job. This is going to be what we do."


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