Bettman: Blues status brighter with new ownership

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gave his stamp of approval to new

St. Louis Blues ownership, saying the franchise’s financial picture

is much improved.

Bettman spent time at the podium alongside Tom Stillman, a beer

distributor who heads an all-local ownership group, at a news

conference Thursday.

”We know the future is extraordinarily bright,” said Bettman,

who referred to the Blues as a member of the NHL’s ”Original 12”

franchises. ”The balance sheet looks much, much better, much, much

stronger.

”I know he won’t rest until the players are hoisting the

Stanley Cup.”

Stillman, previously a minority owner, introduced 16 major

investors including his father-in-law, former Missouri Senator John

Danforth. He said the goal was to make the franchise financially

sustainable for the long haul.

”We are honored and humbled to take ownership,” Stillman said.

”Our new ownership group is 100 percent local, and we are 100

percent committed to the Blues and to St. Louis.”

Stillman asked for support from fans, local businesses and the

rest of the community. He said most in the ownership group are

lifelong hockey fans and most have season boxes.

Coach Ken Hitchcock watched the news conference from a doorway

alongside president John Davidson. Most players on the current

roster attended, along with more than a dozen former Blues.

The sale was believed to be about $130 million for the Blues,

the AHL Peoria Rivermen, the Scottrade Center and what the team

said was a ”substantial” interest in the adjoining Peabody Opera

House. The price is well below the $157 million that Forbes had

valued the Blues in December, which was 27th among the 30 NHL teams

according to the magazine.

The team sold for $150 million in 2006.

Stillman’s group was a fallback option after a deal headed by

Chicago businessman Mathew Hulsizer fell through this year.

”I’d have to say a lot of times I didn’t think it was going to

happen,” Stillman said. ”If there was another strong local

option, I would have been OK with that, too.”

The Blues have been for sale for two years and were at least $10

million below the NHL’s salary cap last season. They’re coming off

one of the best regular seasons in franchise history with a mix of

emerging talent and veterans. The 109 points tied for second-best

in the NHL and Hitchcock, general manager Doug Armey and captain

David Backes are finalists for awards.

St. Louis beat the San Jose Sharks in five games in the first

round before getting swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the second

round, a series that ended Sunday.

”We are fortunate to be taking over one of the best teams in

the NHL, with a strong, mostly young nucleus and a very bright

future,” Stillman said. ”Our top priority will be to put a

serious contender on the ice year in and year out and to establish

the Blues as an elite NHL franchise.”

The Stillman group becomes the eighth owner of the Blues since

the franchise began in 1966. They bought the team from Towerbrook

Capital Partners and Sports Capital Partners Worldwide, a group

headed by former franchise chairman Dave Checketts.

Stillman is chairman and chief executive officer of Summit

Distributing and has owned a minority share in the Blues since

2007.