The natural reaction upon hearing that a Hollywood producer is seeking to purchase an NHL team in the Southeast Division? Immediate misgivings, because it really didn't work out all that well the last time someone did. At all.
But Stephen Rollins, 35-year-old head of Lightning Pictures, isn't Oren Koules, in the sense that he has strong ties to Atlanta and Atlanta hockey; and the Atlanta Thrashers aren't the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the sense that anyone with good credit and an ounce of civic pride could be the difference between the Thrash remaining in the Sun Belt and a fleet of U-Hauls headed north.
He said he became a hockey fan after a player from the old NHL Atlanta Flames gave his mother a hockey stick "and said when I was big enough to play with it to give it to me. I started skating when I was about 6 or 7."
Rollins became a devoted fan of the minor league Atlanta Knights and said he took a lead role in a group which in 1996 gathered 35,000 signatures in support of the NHL awarding an expansion franchise to Atlanta. That franchise became the Thrashers. He said he has remained a long-distance fan of the Thrashers. He said he wears his Thrashers jersey to work on game days.
Well if that doesn't just warm your heart and infuriate fans in Phoenix who are still waiting for their locally born Daddy Warbucks ...
Rollins denied having already put a bid in for the team, and is clearly in the preliminary stages of assessing the numbers and talking with Bruce Levenson, one of the team's owners in its muddled power structure. But he's saying all the right things; hell, he even indicated that the Thrashers are "a sleeping giant" that only need a good marketing plan to shake the fans awake. What, Blueland didn't do it?
We're cynical, of course. Do Rollins and his investors have the money to not only purchase the team — which is, admittedly, at an 'everything must go' price — but handle the years of huge losses that will occur as the "giant sleeps?" Does passion translate into effective hockey ownership?
OK, really cynical: How many potential NHL owners have you seen craft a press release announcing their intentions to purchase a team? How many film production companies, even indie ones, and/or NHL owners have websites that look like this? Hell, Jeremy Jacobs probably has a better home page, and he's, like, 100 years old.
Hopefully, for the Thrashers' sake, the guy's for real; and hopefully, the man who played OCP Rehab Williamson in "Robocop 3" offers more as an owner than the guy who produced "Two and a Half Men." One thing's for certain: The NHL will let just about anyone own a franchise, even if they don't have the dough; provided they don't attempt to buy one through bankruptcy court and they pass the Gary Bettman bro-hug test.