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Published Feb. 4, 2008

The potential sale of the Lightning is about to pass a milestone that could take the process into interesting territory.

Owner Palace Sports & Entertainment has said it wanted a purchase agreement in place this month, and granted Hollywood producer Oren Koules exclusive negotiating rights.

Well, January is about to end and so, it is believed, is the exclusivity agreement, which could be why team president Ron Campbell said Saturday that he expects negotiations to quicken.

No exclusivity means the process could open up to other parties, most notably a group that includes Tampa attorneys Tom Scarritt and Steve Burton, and Koules' partners in an earlier attempt to buy the team, Doug MacLean and Jeff Sherrin.

"We are, of course, still interested in pursuing the possibility of getting together a group that would include local people," Scarritt said Tuesday. "As far as we're concerned, it's good news."

Neither Koules, who perhaps could pay for more exclusivity, nor Palace Sports CEO Tom Wilson could be reached.

But Campbell said Palace Sports is "optimistic" of striking a deal with Koules, and commissioner Gary Bettman on Saturday said there are "no red flags."

"Oren is a motivated buyer and Palace Sports & Entertainment is a motivated seller," Campbell said. "It's taken a lot longer than anticipated. But I believe, based on what I've been told the past week, it is getting a lot closer."

So is the end of January.

BOWMAN PRAISES BOYLE: Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Dan Boyle is one of the top five or six offensive defensemen in the league, and his 45-game absence because of two wrist surgeries was harder on Tampa Bay than its goalie problems.

"Yeah, because they didn't have him for so long," Bowman said. "He helps their forwards (on the transition) so much."

OUELLET RETURNS: Right wing Michel Ouellet played after missing 18 games with a separated left shoulder.

"I don't think much about proving something," said Ouellet, disappointing with six goals in 33 games. "I just want to play the game I can play."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tampa Bay is 1-8-1 against the Sabres since 2005-06, and has lost six straight at home. ... Jim Craig, goalie for the 1980 gold-medal U.S. Olympic team, said: "Let's play hockey." ... Forward Kyle Wanvig was re-assigned to AHL Norfolk. ... Wing Mathieu Darche and defenseman Doug Janik were scratched.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at