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Still no lease for Lightning

It's Saturday and the lease is not finished. Four days ago, Tampa Bay Lightning president Phil Esposito said if the lease between the hockey franchise and Tampa Coliseum Inc. was not completed by Friday, "There's going to be some heavy-duty news. They better be able to swim because I'll throw them in the bay."

Despite Esposito's ultimatum, the two sides could not finalize all points of the lease, which is for 30 years with a 10-year option.

"I am very concerned," Esposito said Friday. "I am not a happy camper about this lease. I know I wanted it Friday. That's today. And that's why they stayed last night until 2 in the morning.

"They made great strides, so I am a little encouraged."

The lease is not expected to be completed until the middle of next week at the earliest.

The delay will further postpone the groundbreaking of Tampa Coliseum, a $97.5-million arena planned on public land adjacent to Tampa Stadium.

"(The lease) is the principal roadblock to beginning construction," said Marc Ganis, executive vice president of Tampa Coliseum Inc. "It is the principal prerequisite to even getting the soil work done."

Esposito said he is frustrated because all the major points of the lease were agreed upon in January.

He blames the length of the negotiations on the lawyers _ from both sides _ who are hammering out the exact wording of the lease.

"The lawyers could screw up a one-car parade," Esposito said. "I understand their problem. They're getting $200 an hour and they are going to make sure they drag it on. I get very angry at things like that."

Delays are costly to both sides. The Lightning is scheduled to play its first regular-season game in October 1992. Tampa Coliseum must pay the Lightning $100,000 per game for every game the Lightning must play elsewhere.

On the other hand, the delays are not helping the team sell season tickets. It is a NHL condition that the Lightning sell 10,000 season tickets by Dec. 31 to keep its franchise. About 3,100 have been sold.

"Seeing a building going up would certainly help sales," Gerry Helper, the team's vice president of communications, said last week.

"I would like to see bulldozers out there tomorrow," Esposito said. "But we are not going to sign a lease unless we are protected. I've got to protect our investors."

Ganis said Tampa Coliseum will be built by October 1992. He said the first 60 days of construction are mapped out with the construction firm of Huber, Hunt and Nichols.

He also said the financing with Fuji Bank of Japan is "rock solid. Mountain solid."

According to L. Garry Smith, president of L. Garry Smith & Associates Inc. in Tampa, the Coliseum will be built and the financial side of the transaction is very solid.

Smith was involved in the initial efforts to find financing for the coliseum group.

Ganis and Jim Cusack, president of Tampa Coliseum Inc., both said groundbreaking should begin by the end of June.

Smith said construction could begin within a month.

Esposito made his statements at a news conference Friday at the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, where the Lightning announced it will sponsor two NHL exhibition games in September.

Norris Trophy winner Ray Bourque and his Boston Bruins will face off against the New York Islanders on Sept. 27, and against league MVP Brett Hull and his St. Louis Blues on Sept. 29. Both games are at 7:35 p.m.

Tickets will go on sale today at 10 a.m. at the Dome box office ($2.75 surcharge per ticket) and at all TicketMaster outlets.

Tickets range from $10 to $34.50. For Lightning season-ticket holders, the range is $7.50 to $32 for one game or $11 to $60 for both games. To order by phone (credit card orders only), call 898-2100 in Pinellas County or 287-8844 in Hillsborough County. A convenience charge will be added to each phone and outlet order.

Some stars will miss Canada Cup tournament

TORONTO _ Wayne Gretzky has agreed to be Canada's captain in the Canada Cup tournament, but Boston Bruins stars Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Andy Moog have declined to play.

Bourque, named the NHL's best defenseman, and goalie Moog said they want to spend more time with their families. Right wing Neely faces knee surgery.

Further, former NHL MVPs Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers may miss the Aug. 31-Sept. 18 tournament because of injuries. This year's MVP, Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues, holds dual citizenship and has said he may play for the United States.

Roberts moves up from minors to coach Whalers

HARTFORD, Conn. _ The Hartford Whalers, hoping to build on the success of their Springfield Indians farm club, promoted Jimmy Roberts to coach on Friday.

Roberts, 51, has led Springfield to successive American Hockey League titles. He also coached the Buffalo Sabres for part of the 1981-82 season. He replaces Rick Ley, who was fired last week.

_ Staff writer John Craddock and the Associated Press contributed to this report.