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Palace Sports still in charge -- it's in writing



The letter of intent to purchase the Lightning that Absolute Hockey Enterprises signed with Palace Sports & Entertainment contains an interesting clause. It ensures the smooth running of the organization by putting all decisions in the hands of the current owners while Absolute Hockey waits for league approval to take control of the team and for the sale to close.

The clause states Absolute Sports must be "consulted'' before any moves (such as player trades) are made. But the final word rests with Palace Sports until Absolute Hockey is officially in charge. 

Given the snail's pace of these things, that might take months. There is a seven-section application to the NHL that Absolute Hockey must complete. It likely will take hundreds of pages of material to comply with everything from financial disclosures to background checks. Then the NHL's Board of Governors must vote to approve the transfer of ownership. Then the sale must close. There's more on that in Wednesday's paper.   

The enforced harmony is important, especially if you know your Lightning history.

It was June 1999 and Palace Sports was buying the team from Art Williams. The two sides were jointly running the Lightning, meaning any moves not only needed the approval of Palace Sports, which already had hired Rick Dudley to handle hockey operations and run the upcoming draft, but the approval of Williams.

According to a St. Petersburg Times story at the time, Dudley had worked out a deal with the Stars to acquire goaltender Roman Turek, perhaps for Darcy Tucker. But Williams nixed the deal. As the story stated, "The deal would have increased the Lightning's payroll at least $1-million and Williams wanted no part of that in the event he remained owner of the Lightning into next season.''

Who knows how that deal, had it gone through, would have altered Tampa Bay's future. Maybe Dudley would not have traded the No. 1 overall draft pick that year in a complex, multi-permutation deal that landed the team goaltender Dan Cloutier from the Rangers. Even if he did trade the pick, it would not have been for a goalie. And the Tucker deal with the Maple Leafs in February 2000 for Mike Johnson would not have happened.

The Lightning might have kept the draft's top pick. It turned out to be a weak year but the crop included the Sedin twins, who went to the Canucks, and Tim Connolly, who went to the Islanders. Top pick Patrik Stefan, to the Thrashers, was a bust.

Lightning president Ron Campbell on Wednesday would not comment on the letter of intent. But speaking generally said, "We're free to do whatever we want. ... We're going to do things the way we've done them for eight years. That's the marching orders I've been given, to do the right things for the right reasons.''

To the credit of Absolute Hockey, which includes former Blue Jackets president Doug MacLean, Coral Springs real estate developer Jeff Sherrin and Hollywood producer Oren Koules, as well as some still unnamed investors, Campbell said it has not made any demands of Palace Sports. And MacLean is on record as saying the plan is to keep coach John Tortorella and GM Jay Feaster.

"We want to win and they want to win,'' Campbell said. "They pursued a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup this year and the next couple of years. We want to build that as much as they do. There's been no animosity, no challenges, no questions. It's kind of like they like what we've been doing.''

It also is in Palace Sports' interest to run the business as if no ownership change was imminent. After all, if the sale falls through, Palace Sports wants its property to retain its value.

"We're trying to deliver the best asset we can,'' Campbell said.

And they can do it without any outside interference.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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