OK Hockey approved as Lightning owner
In what apparently was a unanimous vote by the NHL's board of governors, the transfer of ownership to Oren Koules' OK Hockey from Palace Sports & Entertainment was, as expected, approved as new owner of the Lightning. The transaction is not quite over. The board's action was made pending the closing of the financial deal: $200-million to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5.5 nearby acres. That is expected to be done relatively quickly, perhaps by the end of the month.
In fact, Koules seems to be still under a fairly stiff gag order from commissioner Gary Bettman as only a statement from Koules is expected about today's developments. He is not expected to speak to the media until after the draft but offered this statement.
"We are thrilled that the National Hockey League and its governors offered its unanimous affirmation today. Len Barrie, myself and our other partners look forward to jumping in with both feet, ensuring Tampa Bay it will have a team to be proud of on and off the ice for years to come. Additionally, we intend to focus on the 2008-09 season immediately."
In other words Koules and his group, which also includes his business partner Mark Burg, fomer NHLer Barrie, California Banker Russell Belinsky, Kane's Furniture CEO Irwin Novak and three other yet unnamed minority investors will be on the sidelines. Koules and Barrie already has been a heavy presence behind the scenes, so expect their influence to be felt at the draft, though officially Palace Sports still, officially, will be running things, and in what will be the upcoming announcement that Barry Melrose will be the new coach. For example, note the behind the scenes stuff that has been going on in building a coaching staff. And it as OK Hockey that pushed for the re-acquisition of Vinny Prospal.
Today's vote moves the team one step closer to ending a 10-month aggravation that began on Aug. 7 with Absolute Hockey Enterprises beginning its aborted attempt to buy the team. The starts and stops cast a shadow over everything the team did last season and made it at times seem without a rudder as it fell to worst in the NHL.