Glass half-full disciples should look on the bright side of the failed Tampa Bay Lightning sale attempt as that it saved the organization from a new ownership group that had all the markings of being unworkable.
The half-empty gang meanwhile should start wondering how the franchise is better off.
|One of the best players in the league, Vincent Lecavalier is having a career season for the Lightning. (AP)|
Some flags went up at their introductory press conference when they hedged on the identities of their investors and everything came to a head two weeks ago when Absolute blew a $200 million deal by failing to come up with the $5 million needed for a scheduled payment. In other words, this group should never have excited anyone because when the dollars weren't there at the outset, they wouldn't be there when the time comes to re-sign a prized player or go after a big free agent or trade.
Still, the future of the franchise is less clear after current owners, Palace Sports and Entertainment, announced Monday it has pulled out of the proposed deal to sell the team, the building it plays in and some prime real estate in the vicinity.
Palace is based in Michigan and headed by William Davidson. He also owns the Detroit Pistons among his properties and obviously wants to get rid of the hockey franchise that has won him a Stanley Cup, but lost him more than $75 million since he bought it in 1999. The issue is how badly after seeing the kind of offer that doesn't come around often, especially for money-losing operations, slip away.
If Palace wants to move quickly to entice someone else, Tampa Bay might have to start selling off expensive and key players to cut costs the way Nashville did last spring when the Predators were up for sale. The mega-million-dollar salaries of Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis would seem to be potential targets, but Vincent Lecavalier is the only one of the big three without a no-trade clause. Then again, Lecavalier is arguably the best player in the league right now in the midst of a career season, and he is an icon who recently gave $3 million to set up a pediatric cancer facility at a local hospital.
So it's not a great short-term option because it would hurt a competitive team on the ice and likely cause a fan revolt that could impede the sales process. The alternative might be to invite bids from someone who might be just as bad in the long run.
Maverick businessman Jim Balsillie has to be watching this situation very closely even though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made it pretty clear he doesn't want him in the club. Balsillie definitely has the money and wants a team to move to Hamilton, as his over-the-top bid for the Predators that was frustrated by Bettman demonstrated. But if Balsillie is still willing to pay well above market value it may not be as easy for the commissioner to stop him again.
The Lightning are attractive because of their talent and because the have one of the least binding leases in the league. The lease could be broken for about the cost of a fourth-line grinder and Davidson doesn't live in Tampa, so he wouldn't have to deal with any fallout.
Now there's still a chance that Absolute Hockey, a fledgling group that is fronted by former Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean, will get back in the mix. Two of Absolute Hockey's principals have filed a lawsuit against the third, but Palace has left the door open for a reconciliation should the warring Absolute parties settle their differences.
However, that seems unlikely considering MacLean and South Florida real estate developer Jeffrey Sherrin filed the $50 million lawsuit against Oren Koules, the producer of the mega-hit Saw movies because they allege he was working behind their back to cut himself a better deal. According to the lawsuit, Koules, who is the major money man in the group, violated their partnership agreement by meeting privately with Palace in an apparent attempt to gain more or all control of the organization.
Koules appears to have the pockets to do the deal without MacLean and Sherrin, but if he is fighting off a lawsuit from them, he'll be tied up in court for several years, which would make it difficult for the NHL's governors to approve him. Lightning fans should hope Davidson doesn't have to wait for that to happen. But if he doesn't, that may not be a good thing for them either.