Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exit John McCaw

The Vancouver Canucks will once again be back fully in the hands of Vancouver investors, as the mysterious and rather reclusive John McCaw takes his leave of the Orca Bay offices in Vancouver.

McCaw has reached an agreement to sell his remaining fifty per cent stake in Canada’s west coast team, a move that probably won’t be lamented too much along the rainy coast. The Aquilini Investment Group, owned by local residents Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini completed the deal with McCaw and will have total control over the direction of the franchise once the deal is accepted by the NHL’s lodge of owners.

McCaw’s time in Vancouver was a see saw of emotions for Vancouver fans, who never really knew the owner of their beloved Canucks. He claimed the Canucks and the Grizzlies when Arthur Griffiths got into financial trouble in 1994.

McCaw stepped in and took over the running of both franchises; eventually selling the basketball team to Michael Heisley who it seemed couldn’t wait to relocate the team out of Canada. That move made for a bitter pill that still sticks in the craw of more than a few British Columbians. And seemed to leave the McCaw years up for debate as to the billionaire’s dedication to the city, the province and the team.

While the fans never warmed up to McCaw, he did try to put a championship calibre team on the ice, letting GM Brian Burke make the moves he thought necessary to bring the Stanley Cup to Vancouver. They got close to the goal, but as things turned sour the discontent over the direction of the team grew in Vancouver. With the firing of Burke, it seemed to bottom out for McCaw and his designated watchdogs.

To this day, the now departed Burke (relocated to California) is probably more popular than any current management member of the Canucks’ head office. A testimony to the effect he had on the city, a fan base that thought he was part of them, unlike the out of town owner who rarely it seemed even watched a game at GM Place.

The arrival of the Aquilini’s was an attempt to re-connect with the city and now with the full purchase of the team by the investment group that phase is now done. It will be up to them now to deliver that long awaited Stanley Cup parade for Georgia Street and other downtown byways.

While Canuck fans won’t have many snap shots of McCaw for their scrap book, he did one thing that they shouldn’t forget and that was to keep the team off of the scrap heap. He made a few mistakes along the way, never really finding the pulse of hockey in the province. That task will now fall to the Aquilini’s, who will now have to make sure that the darker days of the franchise remain but distant memories.

Aquilini brothers purchase remaining half of Canucks
Canadian Press

November 8, 2006

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks already had the dazzling Sedin twins starring on ice. And now they have the three Aquilini brothers in full control of the business side of the National Hockey League franchise.

The Aquilini Investment Group, owned by local residents Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini, reached an agreement Wednesday to purchase the remaining 50 per cent of the NHL club and General Motors Place arena from Seattle billionaire John E. McCaw.

The Aquilinis had earlier gained a 50-per-cent share of Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment from McCaw in November of 2004.

Details of both transactions were not disclosed. Forbes Magazine two years ago estimated the value of the Canucks franchise at $148-million (U.S.).

The latest transaction is subject to approval by the NHL board of governors and is expected to close in early 2007, the Aquilinis said in a release.

"Today's announcement is exciting for our family and we are proud that we will be the 100-per-cent owners of this great franchise and world-class facility," Francesco Aquilini said in the prepared statement.

"We would like to thank John McCaw for his tremendous efforts as owner of the club since 1994. He has shown great commitment to this city and to this team. The business of hockey in Vancouver is very strong now and John McCaw deserves credit for that."

The Canucks have played to more than 100 consecutive sellouts at GM Place, which seats more than 18,000, with additional private suites.

"Good for him, I think it's really great for Vancouver," said realtor Bob Rennie Jr., an Aquilini business associate. "My guess is the whole [franchise is worth] about $300-million [Canadian] due to the value of the real estate. To have local ownership shows pride in the community and the team will always stay here."

The Aquilini Investment Group is a diversified family business founded by the brothers' father, Luigi Aquilini, nearly 50 years ago. The business claims to have real-estate holdings and operating entities in nearly every major city in Canada.

However, Francesco Aquilini and McCaw are being sued by Vancouver businessmen Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie over the 2004 sale. In a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, they allege McCaw and Aquilini acted in bad faith and disregarded legal agreements when they completed that deal.

The suit may reach court some time next year at the earliest.

McCaw, a reclusive owner who came to only the occasional game in Vancouver, thanked the Canucks' fans Wednesday for the passion they showed in supporting the club he bought from the Griffiths family.

"Owning the Canucks has been an honour and I am proud of the work the organization has done in Vancouver over the years," McCaw said in a statement released by the club. "The Aquilini family is committed to making the Canucks the best organization in the NHL.

"I know I am leaving the team in good hands."

McCaw also once owned the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise in the National Basketball Association, which lasted just six years before new owner Michael Heisley moved the team to Memphis, Tenn.

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