Negotiations to sell the Tampa Bay Lightning to Boston-based hedge fund manager Jeffrey Vinik have hit a snag in recent days, but it won’t be enough to keep Vinik from buying the franchise.
It may very well, however, ensure that Vincent Lecavalier remains a member of the Lightning, at least for the foreseeable future.
At different times over the past two days, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Lightning co-owner Oren Koules, Vinik and Palace Sports and Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson have been meeting at the NHL offices in New York in an effort to hammer out an agreement to sell the team from Koules’ OK Hockey Group to Vinik, a limited partner in the Boston Red Sox and one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the United States.
The sale is still expected to be completed, but there has been a twist. Vinik had originally planned to ask Lecavalier to waive his no-trade clause so his 11-year, $85 million contract could be moved. But Vinik has apparently come to realize there would be considerable backlash in the local market to that move, so he is negotiating to bring the purchase price down from $170 million to about $140 million. That, presumably, would make it more palatable to keep Lecavalier, even with his $10 million salary for each of the next six seasons.
It’s believed Bettman would make keeping Lecavalier for at least three years a requirement of the sale at a reduced price, but going down that much in price would certainly be a hit to Bettman’s attempts to keep franchise values high. Koules and Barrie bought the team in 2008 for $200 million and Bettman apparently wanted to get that much for the Lightning, its lease at the St. Pete Times Forum and a 5.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the arena.
But Vinik, who has made his fortune buying and selling stocks and trying to outperform the market, would not pay that price, nor would he let anyone believe he paid anywhere near that amount. Sources say Vinik thought the $170 was too much, but was willing to pay it, but only if it meant Lecavalier could be moved.
In fact, it has been speculated the sale price could very well have already been agreed upon, but the two sides are haggling over what will be the announced price. Bettman, wanting to keep franchise values high, would like the announced price to be as high as possible. Vinik, apparently already concerned of his reputation on Wall Street amid claims he is making a vanity purchase, wants the announced price to be as low as $125 million.
And once the league deals with the Tampa Bay situation, a source contends the league will then have to deal with the probable sale of the Dallas Stars. Despite selling the Texas Rangers for more than $500 million recently, Stars owner Tom Hicks’ financial troubles have not subsided and the CIT Group, to whom Hicks has defaulted on loans, is forcing the Stars owner to sell the team.
To that end, the Stars have already hired an investment advisor to put the team on the market. The starting asking price is believed to be more than $300 million. It’s believed the Stars lost just $5 million last season, but that was without the benefit of any home playoff dates.