Puck Daddy - NHL

Here's why recent news of the Tampa Bay Lightning's ownership and revenue problems is disturbing.

The last time the NHL was rumored to have advanced revenue sharing money to one of its struggling franchises in order for it to make payroll, we learned there were some strings attached. In Jan. 2009, the Phoenix Coyotes "had to draw on advances from the league to meet a $42.4-million (all currency U.S.) annual player payroll and operational expenses," according to the Globe & Mail. The aforementioned strings: 

In return for the advances, the Coyotes need the NHL's approval for any major player or financial transactions, according to sources. Daly wrote in an e-mail message yesterday that the arrangement "is not as much 'approval' as it is 'consulting.'"

Sports Business Journal reported yesterday that the NHL has advanced the Lightning "club revenue-sharing money for the '09-10 season," which is the second advance the team has received, having also gotten $2 million from Sun Sports to help make payroll last April. Think about that: The team's television partner needed to kick the Bolts dough to ensure their players checks wouldn't bounce. Good lord.

Combine that with the lack of another investor for owner Oren Koules and/or Len Barrie, a new owner for the team and conflicting reports on being in default on loans, and this isn't pretty for the Bolts. Damien Cristodero of the St. Pete Times received comment from the NHL on that story and the team's ownership situation:

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly would not confirm or deny the report Thursday but texted to reporters: "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. We hope to have a resolution on at least some of those issues in the relatively near future."

"Otherwise," Daly texted the St. Petersburg Times, "we are not commenting further on the situation or on what may or may not be true."

Here's what the NHL needs to do, in a post-Phoenix world: Be candid about whether or not they're slowly moving into an operational role with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and whether the Lightning need to "consult" with the NHL on player personnel moves.

They owe it to the fans that are paying to watch the team contend for a playoff spot now, but may end up seeing its hands tied by the NHL's "consultation" at the trade deadline.

We're not asking for minute-by-minute updates on the ownership search. We're not asking for candid insight into their loan repayments. But after the Coyotes court case, it's time for the NHL to pull back the curtain on its puppet-like operation of member clubs. It's only fair to the fans, even if it's not good for public relations.

While this scenario sounds like "another Phoenix," Tampa Bay has been a strong hockey market in the past in a way the Coyotes never have. The coverage of the Lightning's current problems have reflected that: We aren't hearing the usual harangues about relocations and all of that. It feels like a problem that can be solved.

It's a good market with bad ownership in a crappy economy; and it sounds like it's on the NHL to lead the Bolts out of this rough patch. Which, granted, doesn't inspire all that much confidence, considering the snail's pace of the Coyotes new ownership solution.

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