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With sale, Stamkos, Lightning arrive at 'defining moment'

Irwin Novak admitted he was a bit uncomfortable Monday talking about the possibility of becoming a minority owner of the Lightning.

The league, after all, has not yet approved the transfer of ownership. And, as Novak said, Oren Koules, whose group is trying to close a $200-million deal to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 51/2 nearby acres, "is the boss."

"I don't want to overstep my boundaries," Novak added.

Instead, the Pinellas County resident, CEO of Kane's Furniture and the first minority investor from the Tampa Bay area to be revealed as part of OK Hockey, will strap himself in and watch one of the biggest weeks in Lightning history.

The circumstances could determine the franchise's direction for years to come.

Consider the NHL's board of governors on Wednesday is expected to approve OK Hockey's proposed purchase from Palace Sports & Entertainment.

Two days later, the team is expected to choose apparently NHL-ready center Steve Stamkos with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Oh, and Barry Melrose could be named coach as soon as next week.

Of course, if the board goes thumbs down on OK Hockey, all bets are off. But that just adds to the drama.

"It is a defining moment for their franchise," former Kings owner Bruce McNall said. "It's a phenomenal combination that's happening all at once."

The trip wire is Wednesday, when the board meets in New York. A three-fourths vote (23 of 30 teams) is needed for approval, which would be given pending the close of the financing deal.

There is no indication the plan in which OK Hockey will pay about $100-million with the rest financed by Palace Sports and Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports investment bank, is off track.

"These guys coming in will make some changes," Lightning founder Phil Esposito said. "This is a good hockey place, and the fans here are unbelievable. They deserve for the team to be better, and it's going to be. These guys do not want to lose."

"Absolutely, the fans should be energized," said Pierre McGuire, an analyst for Canada's TSN and former coach of the old Whalers. "No. 1, you're getting a young, motivated ownership with guys who have not failed in their professional lives away from hockey, so they're going to want that to translate into hockey."

For McGuire, most important is "making sure people understand how good Steven Stamkos is. I've been around him a ton. He's extremely talented, and I've seen him completely embrace being a team leader. He is a real special guy."

Novak, who moved to unincorporated Pinellas 28 years ago from Springfield, Mass., said his excitement began in February, when the team traded Brad Richards to the Stars for Mike Smith.

"Since (Nikolai) Khabibulin, this is the first time we've had a legitimate goaltender," he said.

As for the excitement of being a local minority investor in a group of eight that also includes Koules' business partner Mark Berg, developer Len Barrie and California banker Russell Belinsky, Novak said it is secondary.

"You know, this isn't about me," he said. "It's about Oren, it's about the team and it's about the community."

And one of the biggest weeks in Lightning history.

Predators: Ryan Suter, 23, signed a four-year, $14-million extension. This past season, he had seven goals, most among Nashville defensemen, and a career-high 24 assists.

Obituary: Ray Getliffe, a hard-hitting forward best known for giving Canadiens teammate Maurice Richard the nickname "The Rocket," died Sunday in London, Ontario. He was 94. In 10 seasons, Mr. Getliffe had 136 goals and 114 assists and won Stanley Cups with the Bruins in 1939 and Canadiens in 1944.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

With sale, Stamkos, Lightning arrive at 'defining moment' 06/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 9:31am]

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