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NHL approves Lightning purchase by Koules-led group

Two things, Bruce McNall said when asked what advice he has for Oren Koules, whose group, OK Hockey, the NHL approved as the Lightning's next owner.

First, said McNall, a fellow Hollywood producer and former owner of the Kings, "Nothing will always go the way you want it. It's pro sports, and you're going to have to have patience."

Second, he said, "It's a great sport. But not everyone will love it the way you do. You have to find a way to bring it to other people's attention."

On Wednesday, though, the attention squarely was on OK Hockey, which won unanimous approval in New York by the league's 30 board of governors.

It's not quite a done deal. The group still must close the $200-million purchase from Palace Sports & Entertainment for the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 51/2 nearby acres in Tampa. That is expected to happen by the end of the month with Palace Sports and Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports investment bank, splitting about $100-million in financing.

In the interim, OK Hockey, which also includes Koules' business partner Mark Burg, former NHLer Len Barrie, California banker Russell Belinsky, Kane's Furniture CEO Irwin Novak and three unnamed investors, will not be twiddling its thumbs.

As Koules said in a statement released by the team, "We intend to focus on the 2008-09 season immediately."

General manager Jay Feaster said the group was the impetus behind Wednesday's acquisition of the negotiating rights for Vinny Prospal. It is expected to soon announce Barry Melrose will be coach.

And it is Koules, producer of the grisly Saw movies, who always was adamant the Lightning keep its sites on selecting Steve Stamkos with the No. 1 overall pick in this weekend's draft.

It might be post-draft until we hear more from Koules and Barrie, expected to share the day-to-day running of the team. How will Feaster fit in? How will the rest of the front office be organized? What about signing Vinny Lecavalier to a long-term deal? And how much is the payroll?

There is talk of town hall meetings. But until commissioner Gary Bettman ends his gag order, Koules, who will be team governor, must stand on his statement.

"We are thrilled that the National Hockey League and its governors offered its unanimous affirmation," he said. "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."

Novak said he has no doubt.

"I think Oren Koules is going to be great for the Tampa Bay community," he said. "He's unbelievably passionate, and he's very knowledgeable when it comes to hockey. These are some things we haven't seen previously, and it's going to be great."

"They're hockey guys, and they want to win," Blackhawks assistant general manager Rick Dudley said of Koules, a star junior player and, Barrie, who played 184 games in seven NHL seasons. "They want to win. I think they'll think outside the box a little bit."

While perhaps sticking to McNall's advice.

"They'll be terrific owners," McNall said. "They've got the enthusiasm and certainly the pocketbook, and that's what's needed to make the market really thrive."

Ducks: Scott Niedermayer's agent said the defenseman will inform the team of his 2008-09 plans before the draft. He retired after leading the team to the 2006-07 Cup but announced his return in December.

Oilers: The sale to Daryl Katz was approved. The owner of a chain of drug stores bought all 7,492 shares from the 34 investors for about $200-million.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

NHL approves Lightning purchase by Koules-led group 06/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 6:07pm]

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