Group led by former Florida Panthers coach Doug MacLean agrees to buy Tampa Bay Lightning

Tuesday, 08.07.2007 / 1:57 PM Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -A group led by former Florida Panthers coach Doug MacLean has agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning and says it has no plans to move the franchise that won its only Stanley Cup three years ago.

"Absolute zero thought of that," MacLean said at a news conference following the surprise sale by Palace Sports and Entertainment, a group led by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

"Typically, you come into a situation where ownership has been an issue," MacLean said. "We're following a great ownership group that took the Tampa Bay franchise and really put it on the map."

Davidson bought the Lightning in 1999 and helped transform the club from a perennial last-place team struggling to sell tickets into a franchise that won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and has made the playoffs the past four seasons.

The one thing Davidson couldn't do, though, was make the Lightning profitable.

Team officials have said the club has lost more than $70 million under current ownership, and that the only season the club made money was during its championship run.

MacLean, fired in April as the Columbus Blue Jackets' president and general manager, declined to discuss the purchase price, saying the sale still is subject to approval by the NHL's board of governors.

The sale caught many off-guard.

Although current Lightning chairman and governor Tom Wilson said talks with MacLean's Absolute Hockey Enterprises had been ongoing for about six weeks, the team was never formally placed on the market.

"We really weren't (for sale)," said Wilson, who added Davidson had always vowed that when he sold the team it would be to "the right people."

"Passionate hockey people, people with Florida roots so we can have local ownership," Wilson said.

The purchase agreement includes the leasing rights to the St. Pete Times Forum and about 5.5 acres adjacent to the downtown arena.

The former Panthers coach was joined at Tuesday's press conference by fellow investors Jeff Sherrin, a Coral Springs real estate developer, and Oren Koules, a Los Angeles TV and movie producer who once played minor league hockey.

All three said they plan to move to the Tampa Bay area. In all, there will about nine or 10 principal owners.

"This is something we're taking very seriously," Koules said. "This isn't a toy for us. This is our job. This is going to be what we do."

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