SBD/Issue 192/Franchises

Bettman Tells Koules, Barrie To Determine New Ownership Plan

Barrie Will Not Give Up Right
To Sign Off On Transactions
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday demanded that Lightning co-Owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie "work out an ownership structure that eliminates the rancor" between the two, according to Damian Cristodero of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Koules and Barrie met with Bettman in N.Y., and the timetable to determine a new ownership setup is "unclear, though the deadline might be as soon as August." However, it remains "status quo" for now, with Koules as CEO & Governor and GM Brian Lawton as the "point man in the hockey operations department." It also "appears that Barrie, like Koules, must sign off on major transactions." Lawton yesterday said that he was the "tiebreaker between Koules and Barrie." But Barrie then said, "I won't give up the right to sign off on things." No NHL or Lightning execs would comment on yesterday's meeting, and one official said he is under a "super gag order." Hockey HOFer Phil Esposito, who helped Tampa Bay secure an NHL expansion franchise in '91, said, "All I know is it has to be pretty bad for them to be called in by the league. It has to be a lot to do with money, what else could it be? Quite frankly, it's worrisome. It's scary." Cristodero notes how "rights will be distributed in the future remains to be seen," but yesterday's meeting was "another strange trip for a franchise that has seen its share" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 6/24).

POWER STRUGGLE: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cited a source as saying that Lawton will be the "point man for all hockey matters" going forward. The source indicated that during yesterday's meeting it was "agreed that Lawton would handle all contact with player agents and GMs -- in other words, all signings and trades" (ESPN.com, 6/23). The GLOBE & MAIL's Tim Wharnsby cites a source as predicting that Koules will "preserve as the Lightning owner" while Barrie will "fade from the scene as the summer goes on." However, a different source indicated that if Barrie assumes control of the franchise, he "has interest in hiring" former Molson Coors CEO Dan O'Neill to "help him run" the franchise (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/24).

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