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Rumored Sabres sale bears watching, more ownership notes

By Stu Hackel

Who owns your favorite NHL team? There are always rumors about players being traded, but there have been a fair amount of recent stories that speculate on NHL ownership. It's tough to figure out which category of rumors is less reliable.

While owner Tom Galisano has not publicly sought out someone to buy his Buffalo Sabres, he has supposedly listened to offers during the past few years and may have now heard one he likes -- from billionaire hockey fan Terrence Pegula.

First, Kevin Paul Dupont in The Boston Globe and today Bucky Gleason in The Buffalo News brought up Pegula's name in connection with the Sabres, although Gleason couldn't get much comment from the team and Pegula couldn't be reached to comment.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News reported earlier today that Golisano and Pegula had signed a letter of intent to transfer ownership, but the Sabres refused to confirm that the signing had taken place. The following was then inserted into Gleason's story: "The Sabres further clarified that statement to News sports reporter Mike Harrington, indicating no letter has been signed at any price and not just at the figure quoted by The Hockey News earlier today."

Stay tuned, as they say.

Meanwhile, the sale of the Coyotes by the NHL has been a long-standing rumorfest and in today's Arizona Republic, Rebekah L. Saunders writes that the potential new owners feel confident that they will have a lease agreement with the City of Glendale by mid-December. That lease must be agreed to by December 31 or the NHL can begin searching for buyers who are allowed to move the team from Arizona. Winnipeg is always mentioned as a possible destination, but that's where, of course, the Coyotes moved from in 1996.

The Winnipeg Free Press has a special online section that regularly tracks developments with Glendale, the NHL and the Coyotes.

Still to be settled is the purchase price that the investor group, assembled by Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, will pay for the Coyotes franchise.

Another Sunbelt club having problems is the Atlanta Thrashers, who are playing well but have more than a third of their seats -- by official count -- empty at the Philips Arena. On the Winnipeg Sports Radio 1290 Illegal Curve program, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said (audio), "I would acknowledge that Atlanta historically has been a difficult sports market, and I can't exactly put my finger on it as to why that's been the case."

Daly added, noting MLB's Braves have trouble attracting fans even though they have been a consistent division champion. "It might be a situation where the building location isn't ideal in that market, and if it was built in a different location within the Atlanta metropolitan location, it might be drawing better. But those are all issues that are important issues, obviously the building is not moving. We're going to have to look at the long term prospects of that franchise, and if the determination is made that it can't make it there, and can't be successful there, then something will have to be done."

That's an unusual admission from Daly and clearly indicates the NHL's concern about the club's future in Atlanta. If the Coyotes stay put, it won't take long for the Thrashers to Winnipeg rumors to start.