Columbus officials release arena lease proposal to help keep Blue Jackets in town

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With the Columbus Blue Jackets reporting record financial losses over the past few seasons, totaling over $80 million in the last six years and $25 million last year, they’re an organization that’s in desperate need of help to get out of their money woes. With so much money bleeding from the Blue Jackets, owner John P. McConnell has said that if things aren’t turned around that he’ll have to move the team.

While wins haven’t been easy to come by and they’ve made the playoffs just once in franchise history, there’s a plan on the table to try and ensure that the Blue Jackets can stay in Columbus.

This afternoon, a proposal was announced that would see Nationwide, the insurance company that owns the naming rights to the Blue Jackets arena, as well as Franklin County, Ohio and the City of Columbus would team up together along with revenues from a proposed casino to buy the arena.

Doug Caruso of The Columbus Dispatch outlines the plans to help keep the team in Columbus.

Franklin County and Columbus would pledge up to a third of the tax revenue they collect from the Hollywood Casino on the West Side through 2039 to finance the $42.5 million purchase of the arena from Nationwide Realty Investors and pay to operate it, said John Rosenberger, a lawyer hired by Columbus and the county in 2009 to negotiate an arena deal. The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority would own the arena.

Under the agreement, Nationwide would invest $52 million in the Blue Jackets and would take a 30 percent ownership interest in the team. It would have naming rights to the arena for 10 years.

It’s no secret that money is tight in America and using public money to finance the purchase of an arena, even split up over many groups, raises a giant red flag. While the arena would then belong to the county, the fact that it’s money from the people and not a private firm or even the Blue Jackets owners, is the part that makes this deal seem very curious.

We’ve seen proposals using public money land with a thud in Glendale and on Long Island and those were deals that would’ve secured the location of the Coyotes in Arizona and the Islanders on Long Island for years to come. Those matters were shot down either by government watchdogs or via public vote.

In Columbus, this deal would need to be approved by a vote of the Columbus City Council and Franklin County commissioners to make it work. As for what the deal will do to slow down the losses, Caruso breaks down the numbers.

The deal is expected to save the team $9.5 million a year. The team would agree to remain in Columbus through at least 2039.

The $42 million purchase price for the arena is slightly lower than the $44 million value Nationwide placed on it during court proceedings to set the taxable value of the building in 2006, a case in which it was in the company’s interest to set the price as low as possible. The county auditor had valued the arena at $129.7 million. It cost $147.1 million to build in 1999, Nationwide said at the time.

The state of Ohio would help out with the purchase through a $10 million loan, half of which can be forgiven by the state.

The part that makes the use of public money more irksome is the fact that people in the area voted against using public money to build the arena in the first place. Using it now to make sure the lead tenant can stick around seems like an end-around way of getting what they wanted in the first place.

We’re all for doing the right thing to keep a team in place, but the use of taxpayer money is what will always make us feel awkward. If it’s money that had no other destination for usage that’s fine, but burning public bucks during tough financial times makes the situation feel nervous. The Blue Jackets are the only major professional team in Columbus and letting the arena go vacant would be a tough blow to the city and the community so this move could be viewed as one meant to keep the economy rolling until 2039, it just feels a little bit uncomfortable going all in on supporting it.

Update (5:37 p.m.): Blue Jackets team president Mike Priest issued a statement about the deal on the team’s website.

“We are appreciative of the comprehensive work and due diligence delivered in this report. Mr. Dorrian, Bill Jennison and John Rosenberger each understand the issues and this report offers a solution that will provide a long term sustainable business model for the organization. We are encouraged by the report’s findings.”

Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

Things will be different in 2017-18.

Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

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John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

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For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”