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Changes made in OK Hockey's financing agreement for purchase of Tampa Bay Lightning

LOS ANGELES — The most important thing said Saturday about the Lightning's financial situation perhaps came from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

"From our perspective," Daly said in an e-mail, "we are comfortable the Lightning's financial obligations are being satisfied and will continue to be satisfied going forward."

That view apparently solidified last week because of a meeting at the league's New York offices that restructured some terms of the $70-million financing agreement given incoming owner OK Hockey by outgoing owner Palace Sports & Entertainment.

Details were unclear other than the meeting was attended by principal owner Oren Koules, general manager Brian Lawton and Palace Sports CEO Tom Wilson, and that Daly said the league is not financially involved.

The sides seemed satisfied with the outcome.

"It gives us a lot of room to maneuver and do what we want to do with the team," Koules said.

Said Wilson: "The only thing I can say is they're in fine shape."

The economy isn't, though, and the worldwide credit crunch seems to have been at least part of the catalyst for the meeting.

OK Hockey, which took control of the team in June, put about $100-million of the $200-million purchase price into the deal, which also included the lease for the St. Pete Times Forum and 5½ adjacent acres in Tampa. Palace Sports and Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports investment firm, financed the rest.

The plan is to pay off what is believed to be a three-year financing agreement with Palace Sports with a bank loan.

Given how credit has dried up — at least two firms backed out of financing deals with OK Hockey as it tried to buy the team — securing capital has become much more difficult. The New York meeting was called to help OK Hockey better manage the debt while that search continues.

"A very, very, very good, nonconfrontational meeting," Koules, a Hollywood producer, said Saturday while watching his team practice.

"It's a positive story," said owner Len Barrie, who confirmed he is close to selling his Bear Mountain Resort in British Columbia, for about $500-million. "We're not dumb guys. We didn't put in $100-million cash to lose it in three months. We have a good business here. We think we can turn it into a great business in the next three years."

It hasn't been the smoothest ride. The team, which is on a 5-3-1 streak and faces the Kings on Monday at the Staples Center, is fighting to stay out of the league cellar. The announced average attendance of 16,649 at the Times Forum is 19th in the 30-team league and down 2,043 from last season, which certainly has stressed the team's financial situation.

But Barrie said the restructured financing agreement is an opportunity to "create value" and maintain the franchise's stability.

Coach Rick Tocchet is all for that. "I talked to Oren and Len, and they're excited," he said. "They have a plan, and that's the part I'm excited about, that we're solid and going in the right direction. For them to get everything straightened out is great."

Changes made in OK Hockey's financing agreement for purchase of Tampa Bay Lightning 01/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 9:55pm]
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