The next owner of the Dallas Stars will be a Canadian, according to an NHL source familiar with the sale negotiations.
The sale is now down to a two-horse race between Calgary oil man Bill Gallacher and Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi. A third group, headed by former Stars president Jim Lites and Dallas businessman Billy Quinn, which got some attention because it courted Stars hero Mike Modano, has dropped out of contention, according to two sources.
As usual in these cases, no one would speak publicly about this. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to comment. Neither Gallacher nor Gaglardi responded to requests for comment.
At this point, there is no favourite in this race but the clear winners barring any surprise developments will be the NHL and Dallas hockey fans. If either Gallacher or Gaglardi is presented to the league governors for approval this summer, it will be a second home run on the ownership front for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after some embarrassing whiffs. Both men have deep pockets, something of a rarity among NHL owners in recent years.
A few months ago, Bettman pulled the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the fire by finding Boston financier Jeffrey Vinik to buy the team, albeit at a huge discount. Bettman still has the massive headache of the Phoenix Coyotes but landing an owner the calibre of either Gallacher or Gaglardi will give him some relief from that tragicomedy.
In addition to knowing how to make money, both Gallacher and Gaglardi are already hockey team owners. They both own junior clubs in the Western Hockey League. Gallacher owns the Portland Winter Hawks, while Gaglardi is the majority partner in the Kamloops Blazers with Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor.
Gallacher struck it rich as an entrepreneur in the oil business. He recently took one of his companies, Athabasca Oil Sands Corp., public and it is now worth $7-billion. Gaglardi runs the family business, Northland Properties Corp., which owns and operates hotels, restaurants and ski resorts among other things.
While this is Gallacher's first known attempt to buy an NHL franchise, Gaglardi has been down this road before. He lost a nasty court fight with Francesco Aquilini for control of the Vancouver Canucks and is said to have looked at buying the Atlanta Thrashers in order to move them to Hamilton.
Given the hit to NHL franchise values because of the recession, the Coyotes and a few other discounted sales, the NHL governors will be watching the sale price of the Stars closely. That, too, should be good news.
Sources say the sale price will be announced between $200-million and $240-million (remaining currency U.S.), depending on how the team's debt under current owner Tom Hicks is handled. Hicks was forced to sell when his bankers pulled the plug on Hicks Sports Group, which also owns the Texas Rangers baseball team, after it defaulted on $500-million in loans.
Meantime, in Coyotes saga, the Ice Edge group of investors, now the sole bidders, have until Friday to produce a term sheet that will state how much the bank(s) are prepared to lend them. Some people mistakenly believe this will be rock-solid proof that Ice Edge has its financing in place.
Not so fast. People in the banking and franchise-buying business tell us that anyone can get a term sheet from a bank. The document is not binding and usually contains a list of conditions, such as a substantial down payment. Back in Glendale, Ariz., meanwhile, local politicians are hoping that somehow the Coyotes sale gets wrapped up by the start of the season so they are no longer on the hook for the $25-million in operating losses. But that is not certain.
In a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached last week, Ice Edge stated it needs parking revenue of $7.5-million a year to cover payments on a bank loan. That indicates a loan of about $100-million.
Since the purchase price is expected to be $165-million, the Ice Edge investors need to come up with $65-million. There is no sign where that will come from.
Also, the MOU states Glendale will ultimately be responsible for making sure that $7.5-million gets paid, putting the city in the position of a reluctant parent co-signing a teenager's first car loan. This already has the attention of the Goldwater Institute, the conservative watchdog that goes after excessive public subsidies.