Say what you will about Gary Bettman – oh, and lord knows we all have – but the man does have one distinct mutant power: Finding someone, anyone to buy moribund franchises and prevent (or defer) relocation of NHL teams.
(OK, there was Atlanta. But the man’s not a miracle worker.)
So just like the Quebec City and Seattle jokes have quieted in Glendale, the NHL has apparently found a New York-based ownership group willing to buy the Florida Panthers.
The NY Post reports that the deal is expected to be announced in the next few weeks, although there’s no confirmation from the NHL.
The Panthers have been for sale for some time. I had heard rumblings this week while in Toronto that there were multiple groups interested in the team, and that one of the bidders included a former NHL general manager.
I’m not sure if that’s the group that won out, but Andy Slater, a host on 640-AM Sports in Miami, reports that former Nets minority owner Vincent Viola is set to buy the Florida Panthers. Here's a profile on him from his days as a Nets buyer.
Viola was a minority owner with the Nets at the same time Brett Yormark was the CEO. Yormark's brother Michael is the team president of the Panthers.
The Panthers were sold to two minority owners in 2009; one of them, Cliff Viner, is still the owners.
What does this mean for the franchise? Brian Stubits of CBS Sports, a Panthers guy if there ever was one in the hockey media, writes:
The South Florida franchise has had more than its share of struggles on the ice and playing in an already fickle market for sports attendance, at the box office as well. The assumption is that as a whole the Panthers are a money-losing venture. While that is true on the hockey side of things, most believe it's a profitable venture by virtue of the Panthers being part of a larger company that also has rights to concerts and other events at the BB&T Center.
So perhaps it’s another case, like in New Jersey, where the arena has helped lure new ownership. The Panthers don't own it -- Broward County does -- but they're in the midst of a 30-year lease.