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NHL owners approve sales of Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning

NEW YORK - The NHL board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Edmonton Oilers to Canadian billionaire Daryl Katz, and the purchase of the Tampa Bay Lightning by a group of investors led by Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former player Len Barrie.

Both deals were approved Wednesday at the board of governors meeting in New York in advance of this weekend's NHL draft in Ottawa.

Katz, the owner of the Rexall Drug Store chain, agreed in February to buy 100 per cent of shares owned by the 34-member Edmonton Investors Group for nearly $200 million. He offered to pay about $22,000 for each of the 7,492 shares - a deal that represented twice the original purchase price.

"I am very pleased to have received the Board of Governors' unanimous approval," Katz said in a statement. "We look forward to closing the transaction on or before June 30th and gearing up for the coming season."

Koules' OK Hockey group also reached a deal in February to buy the Lightning for $206 million and existing debt from by Michigan-based Palace Sports & Entertainment.

That group, led by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, bought the Lightning in 1999 and helped transform the club from a perennial loser into a franchise that won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

"Bill Davidson, for a variety of reasons, hasn't been able to be in Tampa for a while," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Having really made that franchise as stable as it's ever been, having brought a Stanley Cup championship to the Tampa Bay region, I think he felt it was time to provide for the future of the franchise."

Barrie spent time with four NHL teams during a seven-year career that also included stints in the minor leagues and in Europe.

"We are thrilled that the National Hockey League and its Governors offered its unanimous affirmation," Koules said in a statement. "Len Barrie, myself and our other partners look forward to jumping in with both feet, ensuring Tampa Bay it will have a team to be proud of on and off the ice for years to come.

"We intend to focus on the 2008-09 season immediately."

The Lightning's sale is expected to close by the end of the month, which is when general manager Jay Feaster will meet with the new owners to begin addressing the team's most immediate need: finding a new coach to replace John Tortorella, who was fired last month. Feaster, who was attending the NHL draft in Ottawa, said another issue is the status of star forward Vincent Lecavalier, who is entering the final year of his contract.

The Lightning have the No. 1 pick in the draft, which opens Friday night.

The board also endorsed three rules changes that had been recommended by the league's general managers and approved by the competition committee.

The first faceoff following the assessment of a penalty will take place in the offensive zone as will faceoffs after a puck caroms out of play off the post or crossbar. The NHL is not ready to adopt "no-touch icing" but instead has amended the rule to make it illegal for puck-chasers trying to prevent icing to hit another player.

"Any contact between opposing players while pursuing the puck on an icing must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not for eliminating the opponent from playing the puck," the league said in a statement. "Unnecessary or dangerous contact could result in penalties being assessed to the offending player."

"We think that will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of any possible injuries," Bettman said.

Katz had made five offers to buy the Oilers during a 10-month period, starting with a bid of $145 million. The increasing bids for the team split the EIG in half, one side that wanted to sell and another group of six owners who tried to come up with an offer to match.

They gave up their efforts a week before the deal with Katz was accepted.

"A transition toward a single owner, who is passionate about the game, passionate about Edmonton, and passionate about the Oilers, who is committed to getting a new arena built ... this was an appropriate time for the franchise to move forward and reorganize its ownership structure," Bettman said. "This is a real positive for the Oilers."

It's been a good week for the Oilers, who received the news Tuesday that former star forward Glenn Anderson was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"This is a step in the process, the final step being the closing of the deal," Oilers president Patrick LaForge said. "In our case there are 34 sellers, so 34 deals. There is no real hurdle for that, it's just extra paper work and legal things. It'll all get done on or before June 30."

Katz intends to keep the Oilers in Edmonton and has had discussions with the city of Edmonton for a deal that would keep the team there long term. He has promised to pay up to $100 million for a new arena, build a practice facility for the team, and raise the payroll to the limit of the salary cap which is expected to be about $56 next season.

"I don't think there has been a high level of anxiety," LaForge said. "I think people would like to get out of the business pages and get into the sports pages again with these headlines.

"Daryl Katz is an Edmonton guy. He grew up there and he's been a fan since the club was put together. He's Edmonton Oilers through and through. He bought them for a reason."

The Katz Group owns the Rexall brand, which holds the building naming rights for the Oilers' home arena, and other drugstore chains. In 2003, the Katz Group signed a 10-year deal for the naming rights at a cost believed to be $20 million.

In other news, Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke wants to hear from Scott Niedermayer by the weekend if the veteran defenceman intends to return to the team or retire. Burke declined comment on growing speculation that he might leave the Ducks for a position with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said his short list of coaching candidates is down to two people, and he hopes to have his replacement behind the bench hired within days.


With files from The Canadian Press.


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