TAMPA, Fla. – Boston Red Sox minority owner Jeff Vinik agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, taking on the challenge of turning around a franchise that has struggled since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Vinik is purchasing Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment from a group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, the team said in a statement. The deal is contingent on approval from the league's Board of Governors, which is expected in three to four weeks.
"I've been an avid hockey fan my whole life and I pledge to our fans that I will work my hardest to build the Lightning into a world class organization both on and off the ice," said Vinik, who will have sole control of the team.
Vinik, a financier, agreed to buy the team, the company that operates the St. Pete Times Forum, and five and a half acres of land adjacent to the downtown arena. Financial terms were not disclosed, however it's believed to be substantially less than the $206 million OK Hockey paid in June 2008.
Prior to being purchased by Koules and Barrie, the Lightning had been owned since 1999 by Palace Sports & Entertainment, a group led by the late Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson that helped transform Tampa Bay from a perennial last-place team into the 2004 Stanley Cup champion.
"The day is a bittersweet one for us, as I believe we have established a strong foundation on the ice and begun to point things in a positive direction for the Lightning," said Koules, chairman of OK Hockey. "We look forward to seeing Jeff take the team from here and move it forward."
The 50-year-old Vinik managed Fidelity's Magellan Fund before founding Vinik Asset Management.
Vinik was not available for comment, and is expected to be formally introduced as owner and officially take control of the team when the sale closes in a few weeks.
Koules is a Hollywood producer, while Barrie once played in the NHL and is now a real estate developer in Canada. One of their first moves as co-owners was to lure Barry Melrose out of retirement to coach the Lightning, a move that lasted 16 games.
Since winning its only NHL title, Tampa Bay has made two first-round exits from the playoffs, in 2006 and 2007. The team finished with the league's worst record in 2008 and second-worst in 2009.
Led by coach Rick Tocchet and stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the Lightning were in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday's NHL games.
In the team statement, Vinik called purchasing the franchise a "dream come true."
"I hope to bring a high level of excitement and intensity back to Lightning hockey, with a goal of having the team consistently compete for the Stanley Cup," Vinik said. "I have a passion for the game and will do my best to restore a winning culture … that all of our fans and partners can be proud of."
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