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Lightning close to being sold; Stars up for auction

It was a busy day on the business front for the NHL yesterday as the Tampa Bay Lightning sale neared completion and the Dallas Stars went on the auction block.

Boston money manager Jeffrey Vinik is close to buying the Lightning for about $170-million (all currency U.S.) according to multiple sources familiar with the talks. One source thinks the deal could be completed within a week.

It looks like a deal in principle has been reached, since Lightning co-owner Oren Koules, who was in New York since Monday for the negotiations, returned to Tampa yesterday. Talks between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and representatives of Vinik continued yesterday on what look to be the final details. Koules declined to comment.

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Meanwhile, after denying a report by The Globe and Mail last October that his financial troubles would force a sale of the Stars, owner Tom Hicks yesterday said he has retained one of his creditors, Galatioto Sports Partners, to explore the possibility of a sale.

"While a sale is not a certainty, it is a possibility," Stars president Jeff Cogen said in a statement released by Hicks Sports Group. "Mr. Hicks has received numerous inquiries about the team. Those potential investors recognize that the Stars are a success story."

Galatioto Sports Partners is a New York investment banking and sports advisory company operated by Sal Galatioto that has been involved in dozens of financing deals in all of the major professional sports. In addition to being one of the Stars' major creditors, Galatioto is also a major creditor of the Lightning.

Hicks Sports Group, which owns the Stars, 50 per cent of American Airlines Arena and the Texas Rangers, defaulted on $525-million (all currency U.S.) in loans to 40 banks last year. The sale of the Rangers is awaiting approval from Major League Baseball and the banks. After it is completed, the fate of the Stars will be determined.

An NHL source said there are four parties seriously interested in buying the Stars. Only one of the interested persons is from the Dallas area while the other three are thought to be Canadian businessmen.

One of the Canadians is Calgary oil man Bill Gallacher. He was in contact with Bettman months ago and expressed his interest in the Stars. Gallacher, the president of Avenir Capital Corporation and the chairman of Athabasca Oil Sands Corp., could not be reached for comment. He also owns the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League.

The Stars will fetch a much higher price than the Lightning because they come with a half interest in an arena that makes a lot of money and they are in one of the largest markets in the United States, one that has shown it will support a decent team. One source said the asking price will be more than $300-million.

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Once the sale of the Lightning is completed, Vinik will be the sole owner. Neither Koules nor his co-owner, Len Barrie, with whom he had a falling-out when Barrie's financial woes surfaced, will keep an interest in the club.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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