Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hard To Buy And Sell NHL Teams

It is becoming harder and harder to complete deals to buy and sell NHL hockey teams. Since the lockout, the only team successfully sold outright to new owners has been the St Louis Blues and it took the better part of a year and two different agreements before it happened. This was a sale to a man who was well known to the NHL, Dave Checketts, who was the former president of Madison Square Gardens. There has also been a case where an ownership partner bought out his partner. This was the case of the Aquillini Group buying out Orca Bay to purchase sole ownership of the Vancouver Canucks. This purchase was approved by the NHL relatively quickly, but it was not without problems. Tom Gaglardi sued the Aquillini Group claiming he was double-crossed by his former partner. Gaglardi and Aquillini were both supposed to join the Canucks ownership group, but Aquillini eventually brokered a deal that did not involve Gaglardi.

Currently, the NHL has two teams with pending sales. A group called Absolute Hockey Enterprises had agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning and a "local" group had agreed to buy the Nashville Predators. Of these two deals, most considered the Tampa deal to be the much more likely one to work out.

The Tampa Bay deal has failed when the Absolute Hockey Group failed to make a payment. It appears that one member of the group, Oren Koules, the movie producer behind the Saw franchise, is trying to broker his own deal without his partners involved and failed to make his payment under this deal. A lawsuit is pending over this broken deal. It is unclear whether this deal can be revived with Koules on his own or with the rest of the Absolute Hockey Group without Koules making the purchase. It is also unclear if current Tampa Bay owner Bill Davidson will cut payroll until a deal is completed. On a team with current season MVP Vincent LeCavalier, former MVP Martin St Louis and former Byng and Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards, this could lead to some very big trades should he go this route.

Where does this leave the Nashville group? This group is nominally a local group, but the biggest investor is William "Boots" Del Biaggio, who was previously leading the charge to move the team to Kansas City. That alone makes it appear to be an unstable situation. Add to this the fact that this ownership group immediately looked for concessions from the city of Nashville which they have in a new lease agreement. Can this group maintain stable ownership in Nashville and make a profit where others have failed? I am very skeptical, but it is the best hope Nashville fans have. I would not be too surprised to see this deal never succeed.

With the failure of the Tampa Bay sale, hopefully the situation there will not become too unstable. Bill Davidson has done a good job with the team so far. It would be a shame to see him reduce Tampa payroll. If that happened, it could be the beginning of the end of NHL hockey in Tampa. I think NHL hockey in Nashville might already be on life support. This potential deal is keeping hopes alive, but there are many reasons to be skeptical about it. The fact that selling an NHL team has become such a hard process creates a lengthy time period where the old owner is committed to selling, but no new owner is firmly in place. This is a weak period where teams can be dismantled. In an already weak market, this could kill those teams.

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