Tag: ownership

Screening of Lionsgate's "Saw 3D" - Arrivals

Oren Koules contemplates future NHL ownership while son participates in Research and Development Camp

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Around Hollywood, people know Oren Koules as the guy behind the Saw movie franchise and a producer for Two and a Half Men. Around hockey circles however, people know him as the guy who joined forces with co-owner Len Barrie to make the Tampa Bay Lightning the laughing stock of the league over the last few years. Ownership disagreements, financial problems, and a sale to Jeffrey Vinik later and Koules is out of the game of hockey.

Well, out of hockey as an owner.

The former Lightning owner has accompanied his son Miles Koules to this year’s Research and Development Camp in Ontario to show support. At 5’10,” the younger Koules managed 3 goals and 4 assists in 26 games for the U.S. National Development Team. Even though Miles is from Los Angeles, he went to the legendary Shattuck St. Mary’s to hone his craft before making the trek to Ann Arbor and Team USA. He’s committed to play next season with the University of North Dakota and the Fighting Sioux. He was good enough to earn a spot on International Scouting Services’ Top 50 players eligible for the 2012 Entry Draft.

Being around an NHL team at such an early age helped Miles as he looked towards taking the next step in his hockey career. By all accounts, he’s right on track to maximize his talent and possibly earn a spot in the NHL one day. From scout Dan Sallows:

“The experience was awesome to be able to see how professionals go about their business at such a young age. It mainly helped my game to be able to learn things on and off the ice on the ways to make it because they have already done so.”

It wasn’t Miles play on the ice that grabbed headlines this afternoon. While talking to a few reporters, Oren admitted that he had spoken to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding a possible return to ownership. He went on to talk to Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo! Sports about his time with the Lightning and even hinted why his next ownership venture would be more successful than his last:

“I had two problems. I had a partner that went bananas and the second problem is that the economy kicked us in the balls,” he said. “We went from 38 million in tickets to 17 million.”

As for his time with Barrie: “I signed documents to say I wouldn’t talk about it.”

Clearly the economy played a huge role in the downturn in ticket sales. At the same time, it probably didn’t help that the Lightning were the worst team in the Eastern Conference over a three year stretch from 2007-2010. When people have less money to spend, they’re less likely to spend their hard earned cash to head out to the rink—especially when the team is awful. Between an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and a renovated building in Tampa, new owner Jeffrey Vinik won’t have the same attendance problems next season that plagued the previous regime.

A quick look around the league shows that Bettman would be open to an infusion of new money. The Dallas Stars look like they should be in the final stages of their sale, but both the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes could use a legitimate ownership group to step up to the plate and kick down some serious money. Len Barrie and Koules originally bought the Lightning for a reported $200 million; only to sell the team to Vinik for $170 million.

Depending on the deal he can work out with the Glendale City Council, he could probably get a team in Arizona for a relative bargain.

Adrian Aucoin: “I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert”

Coyotes Sale Hockey
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Ever since May of 2009, there has been a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Phoenix Coyotes. Since the day Jerry Moyes put the team into bankruptcy and tried to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, the Coyotes have had two of the most impressive seasons in franchise history (yes, we’re still including the Winnipeg Jets seasons). In 2009-10, they surprised the entire NHL by finishing 4th in the Western Conference with 107 points. They followed up their Cinderella season with a 99 point effort (good for 6th in the West) and another trip to the playoffs. For a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002, back-to-back appearances have shown that the team was on the right track.

Unfortunately, fans and those within the organization haven’t been able to enjoy this period of success due to the insecure state of the franchise as a whole. Will they stay? Will they go? Will this owner be the one? These are the questions that have dominated Coyotes headlines across the national landscape much more than “Is Shane Doan the most underrated captain?” or “How good is Dave Tippett?” Until an owner has signed on the dotted line and the Goldwater Institute has given its tacit blessing to any sale, the ownership questions are going to continue to steal the headlines from the actual play on the ice.

Defenseman Adrian Aucoin admitted that doubts off the ice can be concerning—but once the players are on the ice, all of the peripheral issues concerning the sale fade away:

“The luxury we have is as soon as you step on the ice, none of that stuff really matters because we’re there for one reason. It doesn’t matter who owns the team we’re going to be playing as hard as we can.”


“As far as family and everything goes, it would be really nice to get it settled just so knowing that where everything’s situated and especially in my case with young kids. And if I’m hoping to retire in Phoenix I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert. That’s a huge factor.”

He’s not the only one who would love to know if there’s going to be hockey in the desert. There hasn’t been any new news surrounding the ownership situation, nor any news of potential owners throwing their hat into the ring. Since Matthew Hulsizer publically pulled his bid at the end of June, there haven’t been many investment groups jumping to fill the void. Jerry Reinsdorf’s name has been pulled off of mothballs, but any interest from that side is minimal at best at this point. All the while, Hulsizer has shown interest in purchasing (at least a portion) of the St. Louis Blues.

Wouldn’t it be a kick in the gut if the guy who tried to buy the team for seven months ended up purchasing another team only few months later?

The good news for the Coyotes and their fans is they are guaranteed at least one more season of hockey. Despite operating on a shoestring budget, only the Canucks, Sharks, and Blackhawks have had a better record in the Western Conference than the Coyotes over the last two seasons. This season they’ll have Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle returning for the first year of his new 5-year contract. They’ll get to watch youngsters Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season; and once they get restricted free agents Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker under contract, fans will get to watch the two young forwards blossom at the NHL level as well.  An increase in season ticket sales shows that the fans are ready to believe.

Just like any other team in the league, the Coyotes will have a few questions to answer throughout the course of the season if they want to make the playoffs. They’ll have to find a legitimate answer between the pipes to replace Ilya Bryzgalov. They’ll need to replace forwards like Eric Belanger and Vern Fiddler who gave the Coyotes strong depth. They’ll need to find someone to replace Ed Jovanovski’s 20 minutes per game. If they can quickly find answers for all three of these questions, they’ll be well on their way towards yet another playoff berth. After surprising people for two years in a row, it wouldn’t be fair to call it “surprising” anymore.

Whether they are able to succeed or not, we know they’ll be looking for the answers while they’re in Phoenix. Hopefully one day we can just look at the team during the offseason and not have to worry about an ownership dilemma. After all, questions about the team’s play on the ice would be a welcomed change from questions about the team’s ownership in a city council meeting.

Tom Gaglardi submits bid to NHL to purchase Dallas Stars


Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi has been the front-runner to purchase the Dallas Stars for quite some time. Friday, Gaglardi took the next step in his quest to buy the Stars from a group of lenders led by Monarch Investments by submitting his proposal to the NHL for approval. By no means does this mean the sale is a done deal—but it’s a necessary step in the process for Gaglardi to finally acquire the team. If no news is good news, then this is great news.

Unfortunately, the sale isn’t as simple as a seller and buyer agreeing to terms and exchanging cash. If it were that easy, the deal would have been done in April when he first acquired the exclusive negotiating rights for the Stars. As Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News explains, there are plenty of people who are owed money and want a piece of the pie:

“With more than 40 lenders who have legal rights to the Stars, one of the key contentions of the sale will be who gets paid what, as well as who gets paid first. The sale price is not expected to cover the debt, so some lenders will not get paid back.”

“’In a traditional sale, you have a seller who is trying to negotiate with a buyer, and you have traditional sale practices. But this isn’t a traditional sale,’ said one source. ‘You have a group of sellers who have different opinions, and that really means you don’t have a seller, per se. Into that vacuum has stepped a lot of lawyers, and that has made the process very complicated.’”

First, let’s reiterate that this is good news for people who want to see a deal get done. Once the Stars’ sale is behind the organization, they’ll be able to look to the future, set a realistic payroll budget, and once again focus on winning games on the ice. Over the last season, assembling the best team possible has taken a backseat to the ownership issues that have dictated the team’s direction (most notably with Brad Richards). This is a small step forward in the right direction.

At the same time, the situation is looking at a bunch of attorneys and debtors looking to get as much money as possible and a proposal that does not plan on paying all of previous debts. If the NHL approves the proposal, the next step is for the 40 lenders (and their lawyers) to fight in bankruptcy court to receive the best return on their previous investment possible. If the Phoenix Coyotes situation taught us anything, any time “NHL” and “bankruptcy court” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s best to proceed with caution. Obviously, this is a very different situation—but there are still plenty of moving parts and interested parties for the NHL to appease.

Another point to consider within the context of the bankruptcy hearings is that all other potential ownership groups will be able to submit bids over the course of the proceedings. No matter what figure Gaglardi’s proposal includes, whenever there are names like Texas Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban involved (among others), there are bound to be a few fireworks if they’re still interested in the NHL franchise.

Just what the NHL needs: more court cases and legal actions surrounding one of their teams. For the sake of every Stars fan alive, hopefully today’s announcement is the beginning of the end of this drawn-out sale.

Jeff Vinik giving the St Pete Times Forum a facelift for next season

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

When Jeff Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning from Len Barrie and Oren Koules, there was a serious need for an owner who would pour time, money, and energy into getting the franchise back on the path towards respectability. A great new general manager, a hotshot young coach, a few good moves, and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals later and the Lightning are regarded as one of the better teams in the East. What a difference 16 months can make. Now that Vinik’s team has made his mark on the league, he’s using his money to make a mark on the building his team plays in. Literally.

In February, the team announced a $35 million renovation project to give the St Pete Times Forum a much needed facelift. The 15-year-old building was ready for a little touching up; but instead ownership is going all out and giving the building a complete makeover. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. From the St. Petersburg Times, Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke shows exactly where the priorities for the renovated building lie as they tore out eight luxury suits to open up the concourse for fans:

“That was a very challenging decision because ultimately, for our long-term viability, we’ve got to make sure we draw more revenue. But we felt the building in some ways needed a soul.”


Re: new seats in arena: “It was the more expensive option, but at the end of the day it really underscored for all of us how serious this guy [owner Jeff Vinik] was in serving our fans. It was a six-figure decision, and he was right. I think it was a moment many of us will remember for a long time, his jumping from seat to seat and saying, ‘This is more comfortable. This is the right thing to do.’ “

These are the kinds of things that will endear a billionaire owner to his team’s fanbase. The renovation project is something that is needed to maintain the building as a world-class venue, but it’s not something that Vinik needs to do to keep the Forum as an acceptable place to house the Lightning. Just look at Nassau Coliseum.

From all accounts he’s doing it the right way—rethinking the entire arena to make it a more distinctive place for the Lightning to call home. More importantly, he’s making the fan experience better for the 21,500 people who show up for a home game. The team is ripping out over 500 seats to install a huge pipe organ with a bar that will be one of the arena’s new distinguishing features. As said before, they tore out eight luxury suits so the concourse is opened up for a better fan experience. There will be new, more comfortable seats all over the arena and the sightlines will be reconfigured. The list goes on and on.

On top of the $35 million, Vinik is having one of the entrances rebuilt/reconfigured (West Plaza entrance) to give the arena a “grand entry” point to serve as the face of the building. Again, the new entrance will be fully funded by Vinik in order to make the arena the best possibly location for his team and their fans. A new entrance won’t translate to any more wins on the ice, it probably won’t help lure any free agents, and it certainly won’t help the ratings on television. It just makes the Forum a more appealing place for the Lightning fans.

The moves show that ownership is behind this team for the long-haul. In an environment where the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the Coyotes are in a state of flux, and a segment of NHL fans are calling complaining about just about every sunbelt team, the move is symbolic gesture of permanence. The financial commitment says, “feel free to devote yourself to being a fan, because we aren’t going anywhere.” If you don’t think that’s important, ask a Phoenix Coyotes fans what it’s like rooting for a team when they’re never sure about the future. The Atlanta Thrashers could have used a move like this—but it’s a move that the Atlanta Spirit group never would have made.

Sixteen months ago, who would have ever uttered these words: “Lightning fans are lucky to have the owner they do.”

Buffalo Sabres turn-around under new owner Terry Pegula

Terry Pegula
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The Buffalo Sabres and their fans got a healthy dose of reality this afternoon when it was announced that all-world goaltender Ryan Miller will miss tonight’s game against the New York Rangers. For the most part, it’s the first bit of bad news Sabre Nation has received since fan-turned-billionaire-turned owner Terry Pegula acquired the team in late February. No doubt this has the potential to be a buzz-kill, but the city of Buffalo has had a heck of a honeymoon period.

Ever since Pegula took over the team, it’s like there’s an aura of excitement infused into the organization. We heard all of the things right after the purchase and the initial press conference. He was a fan, he was rich, and he wanted to drop money into his favorite team and make them as good as they possibly could be. It’s always great to hear that an owner wants to drop money into his newly acquired team, but this is a little different. Forbes recently estimated Pegula’s worth at $3 billion. That’s billion with a “b.” When he says the team is going to operate with an “unlimited budget,” it means something different than when the guy behind the counter at the Anchor Bar says it.

John Vogl captured the excitement during Terry Pegula’s opening press conference:

“The Buffalo Sabres’ new owner made two things clear today during his introductory news conference. One is that he has loved the team since 1975. He used to have friends in Olean put their telephone to the television when he lived out of town just so he could hear the game broadcasts. When he looked to his right today in HSBC Arena and saw Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault, he broke down in tears and told the legendary center he was his hero.

Pegula followed up by telling the fans who don’t own the team exactly what they wanted to hear.

“The Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup,” the 59-year-old said. “We will aspire to be the best in the league at finding, developing and keeping players in the Buffalo Sabres family.”

That was all over a month ago. So what has changed in the weeks since the biggest change the Sabres have seen since Tom Golisano bought the team in 2003? Short answer: everything. They snapped a 4-game losing streak in the very first game under the new owner. After kicking the losing streak to the curb, the Sabres have continued on to an 11-4-3 record in the short Pegula Era. If they can keep this up for the next 10 years under his watch, they’re going to have to figure out a way to etch his face into the side of Niagara Falls. Things couldn’t have started any better—and they couldn’t have started at a better time. They were in 9th place when the new owner took over—tonight they have a chance to pull themselves into a tie for 7th.

The fiscal restraints that tied the hands of the front office were lifted and GM Darcy Regier immediately took advantage by doing something completely out of character for the franchise over the last decade. At the deadline they were able to bring in Brad Boyes for a 2nd rounder in a very “un-Sabres like” trade. Usually they’re the team trying acquire draft picks (not salary), but this time the skate was on the other foot. Thank Pegula.

Since his acquisition a day before the trade deadline, Boyes has joined Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford to give the Sabres some serious secondary scoring they haven’t had all season. Boyes has 5 goals and 5 assists in the 15 games since he joined the Sabres. His linemates have improved their production as well: Ennis has 12 points (6 g, 6a) since Boyes has shown up and Stafford has improved as well with 9 points (4 g, 5a). Those aren’t the kind of numbers that are going to carry a team—but they’ll certainly give a team more offensive depth as they try to pick up the slack for the missing Derek Roy. (Note: it looks like Roy might be able to make it back for the 2nd round if the Sabres were to make it that far.)

For most of the year, the team went as Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, and Jason Pominville went; and let’s be honest, the trio hasn’t played like a line that could carry a team most of the year. But put them with another line that can score and all the sudden the Sabres have a look of a team that will be able to score on a consistent basis. Not only the top line, but Tyler Myers has rediscovered the game (offensively and defensively) that made him last year’s Calder Trophy recipient. In fact, they’ve improved to 8th in the league in scoring (2.90 goals per game). It’s a fairly simple formula: put together a team that can score a few goals and put an all-world goaltender behind them.

The offensive output is great, but any success in Buffalo is going to center around their goaltender. For the first 4 months of the season, they had a team that was inconsistent at best offensively and Ryan Miller was playing like a good goaltender. Good, not great. But over the last few weeks, he’s reminded people why he was a dark horse candidate for the Hart Trophy last season. Last week, he earned the #1 star of the week by the NHL by going 3-0 with 2 shutouts and a 0.67 goals against average and .976 save percentage. Even the worst offense in the league would be able to win a few games with goaltending like that.

Those are all factors that the Sabres are dealing with on the ice. But to talk about play on the ice would only be telling part of the story. More importantly, there has been a fundamental attitude adjustment within and around the team. He’s bringing in a cultural shift that is almost as important as the fiscal shift his bank account is bringing in. The team is embracing its great history and tradition by bringing in greats of the past and making it a place where there’s an identity to being a “Buffalo Sabre.” There’s an excitement throughout the entire organization that we haven’t seen since their playoff runs in 2006 and 2007.

The fans in Buffalo will tell you there’s a change around the team as well. From Die By The Blade:

“How do you feel about the Sabres these days? The word that comes to my mind is ‘magical,’ but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not so much that the team’s playing great (which admittedly helps quite a bit) but it’s that so much has changed with the organization so quickly: the fan experience at HSBC Arena, a better TV experience, a suggestion box that’s actually being used, ‘Hockey Heaven’ and a rug with a logo, and a deadline deal that not only worked for once, but never would have been made under the old regime. After a decade and more of complete organizational stagnation, so much has changed for the better in such a short period of time that the only explanation my brain can fathom is that someone cast a magic spell over the city…”

Pegula said in his “media tour” after buying the team that he’s going to make decisions based on what he thinks is “right,” not by money. Immediately upon taking over the team, he issued a huge stamp of approval for Darcy Regier. At the press conference, he could be seen tearing up when he saw Gilbert Perreault—which was one of the best moments in hockey this year. Sure, none of those by themselves is a huge deal. But put them together and there’s a team that feels like they’re onto something. The fans feel it. And judging by their play on the ice, the players look like they’re feeling it as well.

GM Darcy Regier had a great line when he said the new owner is “filling the hope tanks.” That goes both ways—not only is he selling and encouraging hope amongst the fanbase; but there’s a noticeable shift with the team as well. Only time will tell if this is a short-term boost or the start of something great in Buffalo. But one thing is for sure, just about every fan in North America wishes they had a guy like Terry Pegula buying their team.