Broken Bolts: Tampa Bay Lightning's Financial Troubles Come To a Head

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Broken Bolts: Tampa Bay Lightning's Financial Troubles Come To a Head
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning got a dramatic victory at home last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but stormier financial skies are appearing on the horizon for the embattled hockey franchise.

According to an article for the website Sports Business Daily, the Lightning have received an advance of the revenue sharing money from the NHL to make payroll this season. The Lightning apparently also previously received an advance payment from their broadcast partner, Sun Sports, to make April's final payroll.

According to SBD's sources, the Lightning's ownership group, OK Hockey Group, led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, have defaulted on their loan from Palace Sports & Entertainment, the previous owners of the Lightning. PS&E financed the deal for OK Hockey when OK Hockey struggled to find a lending institution to back their purchase of the franchise.

Muddying the water even more is the fact that the widow of William Davidson, Karen, is looking to divest herself of Palace Sports & Entertainment, which her late husband owned.

NHL sources say the team could revert back to PS&E as soon as Feb. 15. If this happens, it's possible that the Lightning could be packaged with the Pistons and other Palace Sports entities, leaving the struggling franchise in limbo.

The tenure of Oren Koules as owner of the Lightning has been a nightmare for Tampa Bay. After taking the reigns, Koules and his partner, Len Barrie, fired Stanley Cup winning coach John Tortorella and General Manager Jay Feaster for Barry Melrose. Melrose lasted seven games before being fired.

Koules also forced the management to trade away fan favorites Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, and Andre Roy. The team nearly traded away Vincent Lecavalier before feeling the backlash of the fanbase and killing the deal.

The controversy angered Lecavalier and fractured an already confused locker room while also generating a fissure between Barrie and Koules. The feud between the two owners spilled into the public and eventually resulted in the NHL giving each the opportunity to buy the other out. Neither could come up with the capital to do so, thus the NHL began looking for a third party to purchase the club outright.

This season, the Lightning have been much more competitive on the ice, posting a 20-20-10 record through 50 games and are only four points out of a playoff spot. Tampa Bay won only 24 games all of last season.

"We are working with the current Lightning owners to resolve a number of issues for their mutual benefit and for the long-term benefit of the franchise and the league," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly texted reporters. "We hope to have a resolution on at least some of those issues in the relatively near future. Otherwise, we are not commenting further on the situation or on what may or may not be true."

When OK Hockey took over the franchise from Palace Sports & Entertainment, Tampa Bay had the third-best attendance in the league, behind only hockey hotbeds Montreal and Detroit. After two losing seasons and all that has transpired, the Lightning are now 23rd in the league in attendance.

The Lightning fanbase is confused, disillusioned, and hoping that someone who cares about hockey in Tampa Bay will take over this franchise.

Reality says that with the team struggling to make ends meet, they may be a candidate for a billionaire to steal the team away to locations North.

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