Oilers welcome ownership switch as they continue battle for playoff spot

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EDMONTON - Money might not buy them happiness or a playoff spot this season, but players with the Edmonton Oilers are welcoming a switch in ownership from the Edmonton Investors Group to billionaire Daryl Katz.

On Tuesday, Katz received letters of intent to sell 100 per cent of the team from all 34 members of the EIG, the group that assumed ownership of the franchise in 1998 and kept it in Edmonton.

"It's an exciting time for the city, an exciting time for the franchise," captain Ethan Moreau said Wednesday, the senior player on the team with 10 seasons as an Oiler.

"As a player, he's a fresh, new face who is going to run our team. At the same time, we're very grateful for what the previous owners did for this community and for our team."

Katz, 46, an Edmontonian, a longtime Oiler fan and the head of the Rexall pharmaceutical empire, will take over as sole owner of the team, pending approval by the NHL.

Katz upped his offer to $200 million from $188 million - $22,000 for each of 7,492.5 shares - over a week ago. In his 10-month pursuit of the team, that bid finally convinced the EIG board to recommend selling.

"You have one owner coming in who is passionate about the city, the organization and the team," veteran Steve Staios said. "I think it's exciting for everybody."

What made Katz's bid particularly appealing is that he's already publicly committed to putting at least $100 million toward construction of a new downtown facility.

"I think it'll make a big difference," Moreau said. "I think it will be a more attractive place to play. It would be great for the city, as well. If we can get a new building downtown, it could revitalize that whole sector."

Rexall Place opened in 1974 and is one of the oldest buildings in the NHL. Despite several renovations, it's showing its age.

"Especially for a young guy, it's exciting that maybe down the road we'll get a chance to play in a new rink," rookie Sam Gagner said. "When newer and better things are offered, guys are intrigued by it."

While the Oilers have one of the best dressing rooms in the NHL after a $3.5-million facelift during the off-season, players say a new facility will make Edmonton a more attractive destination for free agents.

"I could say it would definitely help," Jarret Stoll said. "This building is fine, but we have the second or third oldest building the league.

"Getting that whole downtown core going with that new arena, kick-starting it, is going to help. It might be a little bit easier for them (free agents) to sign here."

In recent months, the bid by Katz was endorsed not only by former EIG chairman and team governor Cal Nichols, but former Oiler GM Glen Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

"You try not to believe what you read too much and try to figure out for yourself what a person is like," Gagner said.

"But when you hear stuff like that from people who are extremely credible, who played the game and know what it's like from the perspective of players, it's exciting to have a guy like that in the mix."

Added Stoll: "You go on what you hear and what people say. I haven't heard one negative or bad thing about the guy."



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