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Locals keeping an eye on Tampa Bay Lightning ownership situation

Attorney Tom Scarritt tried to put an investment group together to buy the Lightning in 2007.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Attorney Tom Scarritt tried to put an investment group together to buy the Lightning in 2007.

To Phil Esposito, the Lightning is like his baby.

Forget the Hall of Fame career, he said, forget the goals and his two Stanley Cup championships.

"Nothing I ever did was as good in my mind or as satisfying, and nothing was as important, as getting this franchise."

That is why the Lightning founder said if the dispute between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie ends with the financially troubled team up for sale, "Yes, I would try to put a group together" to buy it.

That time is not imminent.

Barrie has a league-mandated 60-day window that closes in September during which he can buy out Koules. If he fails, Koules gets a chance to buy out Barrie. If Koules fails, there is a chance former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, which financed much of OK Hockey's $200 million purchase, could get control.

In that scenario, there is little doubt the Lightning would be back on the market. And if that happens, Tampa attorney Steve Burton said, "There are a number of people around town who love the team and would try to help any way they can."

Such as Tom Scarritt.

The Tampa lawyer, with Burton, tried in December 2007 to put together an investment group to buy the Lightning; the effort short-circuited when Palace Sports gave OK Hockey exclusive negotiating rights.

Would Scarritt try to revive the group if the team was available?

"If the clients are interested, yes, and the clients have always been interested," he said.

Scarritt, 52, has been deeply entwined in the Lightning's ownership situation.

He was the attorney for Jeff Sherrin and Doug MacLean, who in November 2007 sued Koules, their former partner in Absolute Hockey Enterprises, for $50 million after a failed attempt to buy the team. The suit settled out of court for what Scarritt called "a substantial" amount of money.

Scarritt indicated he might have joined the investment group he subsequently tried to organize — he said it included investors from the Tampa Bay area, Palm Beach, New York and California — but was more a facilitator.

Burton, a minority investor in Absolute Hockey, was the same.

"The thing about my clients is they were excited about moving to Tampa and making Tampa their home," Scarritt said. "They wanted to plug into the community and still would like to."

Whether they get the chance remains to be seen. Esposito said his gut feeling is the ownership issue will be resolved before it gets to that point.

Whatever happens, he said he wants the Lightning, the 2004 Stanley Cup champion, "as strong as it used to be. I really think it could be that way again."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Locals keeping an eye on Tampa Bay Lightning ownership situation 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:18pm]
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