The sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning to Boston-based hedge fund manager Jeffrey Vinik is all but complete and is expected to be announced within days, multiple sources confirmed to THN.com.
All issues involving the sale have been resolved and the paperwork is being completed today. It is expected to be signed by Vinik today and the announcement of the sale is expected to be made shortly after that.
The purchase price of the franchise has not been disclosed, but it’s believed Vinik, who didn’t return a message left by THN.com Wednesday, negotiated a discount on the asking price of $170 million because he realized he would not be able to trade captain Vincent Lecavalier and his 11-year, $85 million contract. Lecavalier’s cap hit is $7.72 million, but he is earning $10 million in real dollars and will get that amount for each of the next six seasons.
For a team that has been losing money at a prodigious rate and brings in only about $16 million per season in gate and game revenues, it was seen as a millstone around the franchise’s neck.
Most of the money from the purchase price will go to former owner Palace Sports and Entertainment, which extended $100 million in financing to current owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie to complete the deal in 2008. Galatioto Sports Partners, a company that specializes in financing for professional sports teams, will receive $30 million.
That’s not expected to leave much for Koules and Barrie, who formed the OK Hockey Group and purchased the Lightning for $200 million in a heavily leveraged deal in 2008. Barrie, who has been experiencing problems of his own in connection with his Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria, has essentially been out of the picture for some time and Koules, a movie and television producer, simply refused to continue to write checks for a money pit of a franchise. Koules was not immediately available for comment when contacted Thursday.
The task now is for Vinik to find someone to run the team as president, preferably someone with local roots. The Lightning fan base is growing weary with absentee owners and Vinik, a limited partner in the Boston Red Sox and one of the most aggressive and successful hedge fund managers in the country, reportedly has no interest in being a hands-on owner.
But the intensely private Vinik, who was recruited to buy the team by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman when the two met at the Winter Classic in Boston, reportedly has concerns about being perceived as an absentee owner and is eager to get someone in place who can be the public face of the franchise.
One source said Koules offered to fill that role and was turned down, as has former president Phil Esposito, who lives in Tampa and was instrumental in securing the franchise in 1992.
It’s expected Lightning GM Brian Lawton will stay on as GM in the new regime.
With the Tampa Bay fire out for the time being, Bettman will now turn his attention to the Dallas Stars. As first reported by TheHockeyNews.com and confirmed Thursday afternoon by the Stars in a release, Galatioto Sports Partners has been retained to examine and advise the team on the possibility of securing new investors or selling Tom Hicks' majority stake. The starting asking price is expected to be more than $300 million.