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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman demands resolution for Tampa Bay Lightning co-owners Oren Koules, Len Barrie; all parties mum after meeting

When it comes to Oren Koules and Len Barrie, the Lightning's feuding co-owners, it is status quo — for now.

Koules remains the CEO and governor, Brian Lawton is the general manager and point man in the hockey operations department, and it appears that Barrie, like Koules, must sign off on major transactions, such as trading captain Vinny Lecavalier.

But Tuesday's meeting with commissioner Gary Bettman in the NHL's New York offices was about more than short-term stability, it was about long-term viability, which is why Bettman demanded Koules and Barrie work out an ownership structure that eliminates the rancor.

One could buy out the other. There could be new investors. They could work out an accommodation between themselves.

The timetable was unclear, though the deadline might be as soon as August.

None of the principals was talking — not the league, Koules, Barrie or anyone in their entourages. One even added to his no comment by explaining he is under the previously unheard of "super gag order."

"All I know is it has to be pretty bad for them to be called in by the league," Lightning founder Phil Esposito said. "It has to be a lot to do with money, what else could it be? Quite frankly, it's worrisome. It's scary."

But at least there is some clarity as a crucial stretch of summer begins with Friday-Saturday's draft in Montreal. Free agency begins July 1.

Throw in the continuing trade rumors regarding Lecavalier and there is potential for the team to be remade in the next few weeks.

Lawton, at a May town hall meeting, did not rule out trading Lecavalier, whose no-move clause takes effect July 1, if it was in the organization's best interest. But getting Barrie to agree to such a deal, though it would relieve the financially troubled franchise of an 11-year, $85 million obligation, likely would be difficult.

Barrie has made it clear he wants Lecavalier on the team, calling him a "generational player" and saying, after Lawton called himself the tiebreaker between Koules and Barrie, "I won't give up the right to sign off on things."

How rights will be distributed in the future remains to be seen. Still, former Lightning captain Tim Taylor said the league pushing the sides toward resolution is a good thing, adding that stability at the top "trickles down through the organization."

"Everyone understands when you have that, you know who the bosses really are, it seems to run more smoothly," he added, characterizing the alternative as "too many chiefs and not enough Indians."

One thing for sure, this story has not run its course. And the parameters have changed.

Prior to this, Koules and Barrie denied rumors of their deteriorating relationship. Now, it is another strange trip for a franchise that has seen its share.

"I'm so taken aback at what's happening with this organization," said Esposito, a radio analyst at Lightning home games. "It's just phenomenal that it's so out there. I've never heard of anything like this when it comes to an ownership group."

RAMO TO RUSSIA: Karri Ramo signed a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, depriving the Lightning of its backup goaltender.

Agent Mark Gandler said the deal is for two years with a player opt-out clause after one season. He said Ramo has been assured he will be Omsk's No. 1.

"He wouldn't go over there otherwise," Gandler said. "Tampa Bay wanted to sign him, but we saw it otherwise."

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

Draft chat

What is going on in the Lightning front office? What will the team do with the No. 2 pick in the draft? What does the future hold for Vinny Lecavalier? Check out blogs.tampabay.com/lightning from noon to 1 p.m. today to join Times Lightning reporter Damian Cristodero for a live chat.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman demands resolution for Tampa Bay Lightning co-owners Oren Koules, Len Barrie; all parties mum after meeting 06/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 7:52am]
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