Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Is there a Canuck sale in the works?

The timing is interesting for Gary Bettman, what with his argument that his franchises are in trouble, losing value every day. Through the last few months we’ve been treated to horror stories of franchises teetering on the abyss, their value dropping due to the runaway costs of running an NHL franchise. Without cost certainty the story has gone, franchises may very well be in danger.

So if this Armageddon like scenario was true, how should we read the potential sale of the Vancouver Canucks rumored to be very close to being completed. 250 million dollars has apparently been offered up by a group of British Columbia businessmen, who presently are going through their due diligence over the purchase of the Vancouver Canucks.

The potential sale was the talk of Vancouver on Tuesday, as word broke with a Gary Mason story in the Vancouver Sun that the deal was all but done. In fact an agreement in principle may already be in place as Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie prepare to dot their i’s and cross their t’s and hand over the super sized cheque to Seattle billionaire John McCaw. After that, the hotel and restaurant tycoon and the property manager will have the keys to GM place as well as the responsibility of keeping the Canucks on track for a Stanley Cup, should there actually ever be NHL hockey again.

Mason appeared on the Bill Good show on CKNW (Tuesday audio vault 8:30a-9:00a) to discuss what he knew about the possible sale and how it may impact on the NHL team in Vancouver. Over at Mojo radio the new radio program hosted by Arthur Griffiths tackled the story as well, Griffith’s of course would have a good bit of background to add on the sale, having been the owner that sold the team to John McCaw in the first place. His take was that if the franchise is going to sell for what it was purchased for 1o years ago, then yes indeed, it highlights the state of the NHL today.

Bettman who has more important matters on his plate at the moment, had no opinion on the potential sale. The perception of struggling franchises close to disaster is hard to sell, when your one of your partners is pocketing 250 million dollars. But then again, that is basically the same price tag as ten years ago. Which probably does help the Bettman cause, not many investments return no increase in value over ten years especially investments that regularly had full attendance as the Canucks did last year.

Regardless, for Canuck fans it would be a big day to see the team return to local ownership. While McCaw has been a pretty solid owner, springing for some big contracts whenever asked to by former GM Brian Burke, the perception has been there for a while now that he’s an absentee landlord and not focused on the hockey team.

The animosity towards McCaw and his right hand man Stan McCammon reached a fever pitch this spring, when Brian Burke was terminated by the Canucks. Burke a popular personality around British Columbia received a groundswell of support from the public after his ouster. With the team about to be sold, it seems he may be brought back into the fold. According to some followers of the hockey scene in Vancouver, the new ownership group is considering making an offer to Burke to return to run the day to day operations of the team.

If the sale goes through, it would be a move that would certainly start the new owners off on the right foot with the Canuck fans. While warnings have been issued that the current stalemate between the league and its players may kill the deal, optimism abounds in Vancouver over the ownership issue of the team.

The Canucks may be the only NHL team with good news over the next little while, a positive development in an otherwise very negative situation.

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