Bolts' buyers stay in own end of rink

Working to complete the deal, they try — between interviews — to keep a low profile.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

The two most conspicuous men at the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday were also the two men most conscious of seeming too pushy.

One day after their surprise emergence as potential owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Doug MacLean and Jeff Sherrin set up a makeshift work center in a conference room close to the offices they hope to occupy, but far enough away so as not to be easily noticed.

"We said we wanted to work in a separate area," MacLean said. "We don't want to be a distraction."

Their group, Absolute Hockey Enterprises, which includes Hollywood producer Oren Koules and six or seven unnamed investors, has agreed to buy the Lightning, the Times Forum lease and 5.5 acres of adjacent land from Palace Sports & Entertainment for about $200-million.

The transaction still needs approval of the NHL's Board of Governors, which meets in late September. But before that, the formal application to the league must be completed, the group's lawyers will pore through Palace Sports' books to better gauge its finances, and they must coordinate documentation that shows Absolute Hockey has the financial capability to run the team.

No surprise, then, that one day after the purchase agreement that caught so many by surprise was announced, MacLean, pulled and pushed in all kinds of directions, sounded beat.

"We spent the morning going over the checklist of the things we had to get in order," he said. "We had a phone call with the NHL to start the process. We met with people of the brokerage firm that facilitated the deal, getting ready to do the due diligence and getting the information to the league."

But what a strange dynamic: MacLean and Sherrin aren't the bosses yet, but they have access to all of Palace Sports' information. They don't have offices, but the media are treating them as if they already own the place.

"As you woke up and started to leaf through the newspaper pages and it hits you between the eyes," MacLean said. "This is a monumental task."

"I admit it was awkward seeing all the newspaper and media coverage," said Sherrin, a Coral Springs developer who would rather fade into the background. "Having said that, it is an incredibly exciting time for me, my family and my business partners."

MacLean, a former Florida Panthers coach and former general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is more comfortable with reporters.

He said he started Wednesday with a 6:30 a.m. television spot in front of the hotel he said he and Sherrin will call home for the next month. Interviews stretched into the evening.

MacLean said he took congratulatory phone calls from friends such as Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke. He toured the Times Forum, and took special notice of the spacious dressing and lounge areas which he said reinforced Palace Sports treats its players well.

Always, though, there was the paperwork, the meetings and the financial analyses, especially for Sherrin.

"I really haven't had the chance to spend any more time touring the building or the property," he said. "The focus right now remains working through the due diligence process and getting the documents prepared for the league."

And then there is team spokesman Bill Wickett, who said he fielded so many interview requests Wednesday, he felt like MacLean's booking agent.

"My job is to do what's best for the Tampa Bay Lightning," he said. "If it means working for Palace Sports & Entertainment at the same time I'm working for Absolute Hockey, so be it. As long as it's in the best interest of the team."

No boundaries there.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.