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KOULES TAKES LEAD IN FIGHT FOR LIGHTNING

Jeff Greene says he can buy out Len Barrie and team with Oren Koules as the majority owner.

When it comes to his attempt to buy a majority interest of the Lightning, Jeff Greene is nothing if not confident.

"I don't need financing," the Los Angeles real estate investor said Monday. "I have the funds available to do this transaction."

He also said, "If everything falls into place, there's a very good chance we have a deal."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed Greene, working with Oren Koules to buy out co-owner Len Barrie, filed a league ownership application. The NHL has not said the same about Anthony Sansone, the St. Louis real estate developer working with Barrie to buy out Koules.

In fact, Daly said it is "premature" to consider Sansone a serious candidate to gain control of the team.

With that, Greene and Koules emerged as the apparent front-runners in the race to bring stability to a franchise that has known little since June 2008, when OK Hockey took control from Palace Sports & Entertainment.

"There are all kinds of details to iron out," Greene said, adding he has not signed an agreement with Koules. "But right now, everything looks very positive."

Asked if his interest would be closer to 50 or 100 percent, Greene, the Miami Beach resident Forbes says is worth $1.3 billion, said, "It's in between."

He said Koules would continue to have a role and buying out Barrie "is definitely the intention."

"I'm very excited that a guy like Jeff is interested," Koules said. "To partner with someone with his resources and business acumen, he's going to take my passion, and I think we can make this a great success."

The team's ownership situation has been anything but as Koules and Barrie differed about how to run and build the franchise. In June, commissioner Gary Bettman called them to his New York offices for a lecture.

He set up a program that gave both 60-day exclusive windows to buy out the other, though it is unclear if those windows still apply. Barrie, who was first up and believed to have until Wednesday to complete a deal, has been unsuccessful, though Sansone met with Bettman last week and apparently is continuing due diligence.

Neither Sansone nor Barrie would comment.

Greene, 55, who made the bulk of his money trading credit-default swaps, which paid off from defaults of subprime mortgages, said he did not know Koules when contacted in May by one of his investment bankers.

While Greene said he follows sports - he was a Bruins fan when he lived in Massachusetts - he said this would not be a vanity sale.

"This is a business deal first," he said.

Despite the Lightning's shaky finances - it is believed it will get $14 million in league revenue sharing - Greene said he sees opportunity:

"Absolutely. I think one of the key parts of this deal is they play in a great arena. I think Tampa has terrific sports fans. If this team turns itself around and starts winning some games and the economy gets a little better, I think Tampa is a fantastic place to have a sports team."

He said he would not consider moving it:

"I don't know where you would want to move a team in this country with better fundamentals."

Greene stressed nothing is final, and any deal would need approval from the NHL's Board of Governors.

"We're working in good faith to try to make this work and try to make a deal to put this team on solid financial ground and to be a great asset to the community and to be a successful business venture," Greene said.

"If that works, great. If, on the other hand, somebody else comes along and does something, that's their prerogative. It's like any deal you do. Until it's done, it's not."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

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