New ownership group: Lightning to stay
The Lightning's new ownership group has no plans to move the team out of Tampa, it announced during a news conference Tuesday morning at the St. Pete Times Forum. Watch video.
"Absolute zero thought of that,'' said former Florida Panthers coach and Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean, who will join Coral Springs developer Jeff Sherrin and Hollywood producer Oren Koules as co-owners. "Quite honest(ly), it never entered our minds.''
The group, called Absolute Hockey Enterprises, purchased the Lightning, its lease agreement with Hillsborough County, the St. Pete Times Forum and two pieces of adjacent property from Palace Sports & Entertainment. The deal awaits league approval, which is expected to be a formality. Sherrin declined to reveal the price "until we go through the NHL approval stage.'' He said there will be nine or 10 principal owners in all, including another partnership group that is out of town this week.
As a show of their commitment to keeping the franchise in town, MacLean, Sherrin and Koules said they will move to the Tampa Bay area. "I only have one hurdle,'' said Koules, a former minor pro hockey player who will work to improve the team's marketability, "and that's the humidity.''
MacLean said the group's goals are to "create a great business model, and we also want to win hockey games, because I think the two have to go hand in hand.'' With respect to the payroll (current owner Bill Davidson had set a $44-million ceiling for this season), MacLean said the new owners will step back and take a look at their business model and make decisions as a group. "It's something we're going to look at and evaluate the team on a weekly basis,'' he said.
Tom Wilson, the Lightning's chairman and governor, said Palace Sports had not planned to sell the team and had turned down previous offers. But they felt good about Absolute Hockey's passion for hockey, Florida roots and commitments to the game, the city and to making the Lightning the best franchise in hockey. "We never made money but for our Stanley Cup year, but that wasn't the driver,'' Wilson said. "To be honest, I can't really tell you what the driver was.''
MacLean said he met with Lightning GM Jay Feaster on Monday and will get together with coach John Tortorella today. He said the new ownership plans to keep the Lightning administration in place, specifically naming Feaster, Tortorella, team president Ron Campbell and director of player personnel Bill Barber as people they'd like to keep on board.
Mayor Pam Iorio issued this statement: "The City of Tampa has had a positive relationship with Palace Sports and Entertainment. We look forward to meeting with the new owners and continuing this valuable partnership. It is important to the city and to the region that the Tampa Bay Lightning remains a part of our community. We wish the franchise on-going success and we will do all we can as a partner to ensure their future.''
Photo by Ken Helle | Times: The new owners, from left to right: Jeffrey Sherrin, an Orlando developer, Oren Koules, a Hollywood producer, and former NHL coach Doug MacLean.