Boston financier agrees to buy Lightning

Boston financier Jeff Vinik has agreed to buy the Tampa Bay

Lightning, taking on the challenge of turning around a franchise

that has struggled since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Vinik is purchasing Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment from

a group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, the team said in a

statement Friday. The deal is contingent on approval from the

league’s Board of Governors, which is expected in three to four

weeks.

“I’ve been an avid hockey fan my whole life and I pledge to

our fans that I will work my hardest to build the Lightning into a

world class organization both on and off the ice,” said Vinik, who

will have sole control of the team.

Vinik agreed to buy the team, the company that operates the

St. Pete Times Forum, and 5.5 acres of land adjacent to the

downtown arena. Financial terms were not disclosed, however it’s

believed to be substantially less than the $206 million OK Hockey

paid in June 2008.

Prior to being purchased by Koules and Barrie, the Lightning

had been owned since 1999 by Palace Sports & Entertainment, a

group led by the late Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, who

helped transform Tampa Bay from a last-place team into the 2004

Stanley Cup champion.

“The day is a bittersweet one for us, as I believe we have

established a strong foundation on the ice and begun to point

things in a positive direction for the Lightning,” said Koules,

chairman of OK Hockey. “We look forward to seeing Jeff take the

team from here and move it forward.”

The 50-year-old Vinik, a minority owner of the Red Sox,

managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund before founding Vinik Asset

Management.

The Lightning announced the deal in a three paragraph

statement. Vinik was not available for comment, and is expected to

be formally introduced as owner and officially take control of the

team when the sale closes in a few weeks.

Koules is a Hollywood producer and Barrie, a one-time NHL

player who’s now a real estate developer in Canada. One of their

first moves as co-owners was to lure Barry Melrose out of

retirement to coach the Lightning, a move that lasted 16 games.

Tampa Bay, led by coach Rick Tocchet and stars Vincent

Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, was in the eighth and final

playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday’s NHL

games. Brian Lawton is the general manager.

The Lightning host the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.