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THN.com Blog: Tampa in-fighting puts team in flux

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

So, it appears NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stepped in and, at least temporarily, quelled the spat between the two parties in the most dysfunctional ownership group in the NHL.

But everything is far from OK for OK Hockey and its principals, Oren Koules and Len Barrie. Everyone from Barry Melrose to John Tortorella to Dan Boyle has had nasty things to say about the way these guys do business and there is no doubt there is little love between the two.

According to Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, Koules and Barrie met with Bettman in New York Tuesday and emerged from the meeting with their business model intact, meaning Koules still has final say in the direction of the team.

But if Koules is in charge, why is Barrie conducting a cash call for the Lightning, looking for investors in the team at $5 million a pop? THN.com has learned Barrie began soliciting investors for the team in early May and has also obtained a copy of a confidentiality agreement Barrie sent to prospective investors that certainly appears to freeze Koules out of the situation.

Part of the confidentiality agreement, which is dated May 5, reads: “You agree that (i) communications regarding the Transaction, (ii) requests for additional information, (iii) requests for facility tours or management meetings, and (iv) discussions or questions regarding procedures, will be submitted directory only to Len Barrie, President or Brian Rogers, Executive Vice-President.

“You further agree that under no circumstances will you or your Representatives discuss or otherwise communicate any aspect of the Transaction to any member of the Company without the express written permission of the Company.”

Does that sound like somebody who is getting along with his business partner? Having people ask about the particulars of the company without being able to speak to the owner and governor of the team?

In any event, it reeks of desperation, said one businessperson who was asked to pass on the confidentiality agreement to another party. These disclosure agreements are generally used to qualify investors in advance, but a source said it’s certainly not the ideal way to raise money.

“They are in dire financial straits,” the source said. “When someone sends this through a third party, it shows the total recklessness of trying to find money. They should be much more stringent with parties when looking for money for a team ownership in a professional league.”

Which was undoubtedly part of Bettman’s talk with Koules and Barrie Tuesday. The team’s ownership has been a mess since the day it was conceived and Bettman, whose governors approved the ownership group, has an enormous stake in making things right in Tampa Bay.

But with these two butting heads, how can that be possible? Tampa Bay continues to be dismantled and the organization is in disarray. A team that just a few years ago had a championship roster, robust attendance and balanced finances is now a league bottom-feeder that pads its attendance numbers and is bleeding money.

Koules’ answer to the problem is to rid the Lighting of its 11-year, $85 million commitment to Vincent Lecavalier, which might be a good long-term move, but would set the franchise back even more in the immediate future.

With Koules still at the helm, does that mean the draft could be usurped by the Vinny Lecavalier sweepstakes? If it’s true Koules is looking to pare the Lightning payroll down to the $40 million range, which would put it at the floor of the salary cap, a good place to get started would be the draft floor in Montreal.

Think you know your prospects? Enter THN.com's FreeNHL Draft Predictor contest for your chance to win an RBK Edge jersey.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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