The Lightning is on its way to having new ownership as Boston hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik on Friday secured a purchase agreement to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5½ acres around the building.
The deal still has to close and Vinik needs approval from the NHL's Board of Governors for the transfer of ownership from OK Hockey. But because Vinik is paying cash and already has been vetted by the league, those are considered formalities and expected to be done in two to four weeks, when Vinik will officially take over the team.
He will be a sole proprietor, meaning OK Hockey co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie and the six limited partners, will have no ownership stake. The team will remain in Tampa.
With the agreement, Vinik, 50, apparently takes over the team's payroll. That is important because the Lightning reportedly drew an advance on end-of-season league revenue sharing money to help meet January's payroll.
There was no immediate word on how much Vinik paid for the team, but it is believed substantially less than the $170 million reported by the Hockey News. OK Hockey paid $200 million in June 2008.
It is believed the key to the transaction was the willingness of former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment to take less on the dollar to settle its financing of OK Hockey's purchase.
Palace Sports financed about $67 million and lent another $30 million in operating capital. Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports banking firm, financed at least another $30 million.
But Palace Sports could soon be for sale, a process that will be easier if the Lightning is off its books. Karen Davidson, widow of Bill Davidson, who owned Palace Sports, the umbrella company that controlled the Lightning and Pistons, reportedly wants to unload all her sports and entertainment holdings.
Vinik, a limited partner in the Red Sox, was not immediately available for comment. He will be the Lightning's fifth owner.