Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Lightning dream or nightmare?

If you're a Lightning fan and hear that William Davidson, owner of the NBA's Detroit Pistons, is interested in buying the Lightning, the first thing you do is a back flip. Then you pass out a few high-fives to your buddies. Then maybe try another back flip or two.

It's about time someone _ heck, anyone _ stopped the car when they saw the for sale sign in the Ice Palace's front yard and then didn't screech away when they found out how much the owners wanted for the fixer-upper.

It's also nice to know that Davidson is obscenely rich, knows how to run a sports franchise and, from all accounts, is a nice man.

Then you start to think about it. Then you start to pray. Then you start to worry.

What if Davidson decides not the buy the NHL's sorriest franchise? If a man worth an estimated $4-billion with a reputation for pulling businesses back from the dead concludes he can't make the Lightning work, who can?

Lightning attorneys, Davidson's right-hand man _ Pistons president Tom Wilson _ and even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman swear at least two other groups are interested, but Davidson would appear to be the heaviest hitter who has ever knocked on the Ice Palace doors. He has given away more money in the 1990s than the Lightning is worth.

"I think a lot of other people that look into buying a sports team think it would fun to run a sports team without really understanding what the business is all about," Wilson said Friday. "We do understand what's involved. Right now we're taking a serious look at this to see how we can make it work."

Davidson and Wilson don't care how many games the Lightning won or lost last season. And they don't care how the team has been run the past six years and how many times it has missed the playoffs. If anything, the Lightning's crummy history makes it all the more appealing. It's not about what has happened; it's about what can happen.

"You don't always look at the teams that have won the World Series or the Super Bowl," Wilson said. "Hopefully we have some ideas that can add value to the franchise."

And this is the scary part. To them, it's about business, about making money. Davidson's pockets are deep enough to lose money _ lots of it _ for several years. Already, Wilson hinted the first thing Davidson's group would do is spend money to improve the Ice Palace and the team. But if Davidson and Wilson can't see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and decide to back out, where would that leave other potential suitors?

Put it this way: If you had less money than Davidson and you knew that Davidson, whose track record in business is essentially perfect, had been scared away, would you proceed?

You also have to wonder whether Bettman, who has been friends with Davidson for more than 20 years, is putting a bug in Davidson's ear. Surely Bettman is asking (and praying) his old buddy will do him a favor. By signing his name to an offer sheet, Davidson turns the biggest headache in the league into one of the most stable franchises in sports.

The other question is why Davidson would be interested in a team that hasn't had a great past and doesn't have a particularly bright future. Well, he isn't. He's interested in the Ice Palace. Buildings, not teams, are where the money is made, particularly in the NHL. But that doesn't mean Davidson won't try to build a winner.

"You have to give the people a product," Wilson said. "You have to give them a reason to come to the building in the first place. You want to give them a nice place to come, but they need a reason to be there."

Davidson buys the Lightning. For a Lightning fan, it all sounds too good to be a true. And more than a little scary if it turns out not to be true.