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Lightning: Numbers to weigh

Now comes the hard part.

Confident it wants to own the Lightning, the purchase group headed by Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson has begun talking price with the team to determine if it should make a conditional offer on paper in the next day or two. The sides speak daily, trying to hammer out a deal the Davidson group says must be completed in 10 days _ or not at all.

"I wouldn't say we made them an official offer, but we did give them some numbers to consider," said Pistons president Tom Wilson, Davidson's point man in the talks. "It's down to the point where we've done a lot of the work, looked at a lot of the figures, and we've given them some numbers to see if it's in their ballpark. It's as if to say, "Here's sort of what we're thinking. What are you thinking? If you do this, then we'll do that.' And so on."

Wilson said the deal and numbers are so complicated, he wants to make sure the Lightning is receptive to a general price before wading through the difficult work of a formal written offer.

Attorney Stephen Wayne, representing the Lightning in the talks, confirmed the sides are talking numbers but wouldn't say if an agreement is near.

Neither Wilson nor Wayne discussed numbers, but the asking price is believed to be between $100-million and $140-million.

"They have clearly indicated a seriousness, but just because someone gives you a number does not mean you're about to finish the deal," Wayne said. "Yes, we are talking numbers, but no, we're not at the stage where we can say one way or the other that this will happen or won't happen. It's too early to say that. This is a process that takes some time."

Wayne even said the Davidson group was not the only one discussing numbers with the Lightning. Three other groups have spoken to the Lightning over the past several weeks, but that number dwindled this week when a local group ended its pursuit.

Though other groups may be talking to the Lightning, Davidson's group appears to be the most serious, claiming it would walk away if a deal was not in place by May 15. Wilson admitted, though, that his group is not as far along in the process as it hoped it would be at this time.

"All this takes time," he said. "We're definitely interested in doing something concrete but we don't know what the gap is right now."

Wilson said the point his group is studying is the Lightning debt, which it wants taken off the asking price. The problem is, the debt changes daily, as it does with any business. Wilson said the sides need to settle on a day, figure out the debt on that day, then consider offers at that point.

Davidson's group would prefer to be in charge of the organization in time to begin preparing for next season. That preparation would include evaluating personnel, starting a ticket campaign, participating in the June 27 draft and possibly signing free agents and making front-office changes. The NHL also would have to approve the sale, but that would appear to be a formality because commissioner Gary Bettman has been friends with Davidson for nearly 20 years.

The first major hurdle _ Davidson's group deciding it wants to own the team for the right price _ was cleared Tuesday.

"Things aren't so speculative now," Wilson said. "But we do need to eventually address some of the existing contracts (the Lightning has with vendors). But first we have to agree on some sort of figure (with the Lightning)."

If the Lightning and Davidson's group eventually settle on a price, Davidson will make a conditional offer. That likely would have to happen by the end of this week to meet the group's May 15 deadline to finalize the deal. The conditions on an offer would be attached to the group's ability to renegotiate contracts with various Lightning vendors.

Wilson, though, reiterated Tuesday he was optimistic deals could be reached with vendors.

"We really think we'll be in or out by next weekend," he said. "It may take a couple of weeks after that to get all the books straight and finalize everything. But if by next Friday we're not in, we told them to move on."