Lightning's ownership situation made easy
A lot of information has become available the past few days about the Lightning's ownership situation and owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, who over the summer mounted efforts to buy each other out under a league-mandated program that since has been modified. Here is a quick primer to give the lay of the land and where things stand -- as best we can figure, what with the parties still mostly quiet about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Still, here is what we believe we know:
* It appears Koules is in the best position to maintain at least a piece of the team, having recruited and now partnered with Los Angeles real estate billionaire Jeff Greene. Greene, 55, whose primary residence is Miami Beach, has applied for NHL ownership and has said he wants to be majority owner. He said he would keep Koules as a minority partner. Greene's best line: "I don't need financing" to buy out Barrie and retire a substantial amount of the debt held by former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, which financed about $97 million (including $30 million in operating capital) of OK Hockey's $200 million purchase of the team.
* St. Louis real estate developer Anthony Sansone Jr. is the other interested party, though the league has said it is "premature" to call him a serious candidate to own the team. The NHL also never has said Sansone has applied for ownership, something it acknowledged with Greene. Sansone is Barrie's guy, though it is difficult to know how serious are Sansone's intentions because he has declined all comment after one late-August interview. It is believed he also would be a majority (or at least the primary) owner if he got the team with Barrie being in a minority position.
* The original buyout program, as designed by commissioner Gary Bettman, gave both sides a chance to buy out the other during exclusive windows. Barrie was first up, and his window was to last through Sept. 23. But given the difficulties finding financing, and, perhaps, feeling some pressure from financial problems at his Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria, British Columbia, Barrie (who confirmed this) waived his exclusivity in late August and believed handed the effort to buy the team to Sansone.
* Koules is technically in his buy window through Nov. 23. But Koules, who is within his rights to shut down any Barrie effort, has nullified his exclusivity to give Barrie a chance to continue working on a deal. Koules could have been spiteful here and told Barrie "tough luck," but Koules is being practical. If he gets the right offer, why wouldn't he take it and be done with this crazy business? So, while Koules rides along with Greene, he also does not short-circuit the possibility Barrie could come up with a plan that could buy out Koules. Neither the league nor Koules would comment on this, but Barrie confirmed the scenario.
*The good news is that with all this going on in the front office, the players seem unaffected. In fact, since Bettman summoned the owners to New York in June to clearly delineate who should be doing what job -- Koules is Governor and CEO; Brian Lawton, as general manager, is head of hockey operations and the point man on all transactions; and Barrie must be consulted on any transaction of $2 million or more, the team made good moves to bolster the blue line and top two offensive lines.
* When will this all end? Who knows, though both sides certainly would want some resolution by the start of the season, to make sure the focus stays where it needs to be, on a team that some analysts around the league say is much improved and, if everything falls right, could squeak into the playoffs.