Despite the fact that the Blues have catapulted themselves into the upper echelons of NHL teams this season, their ownership is still in tumultuous territory. Numerous deadlines have come and gone with still no ownership in place. One can easily poke around the web for the reports on this, but to summarize, the Blues still do not have an owner, Tom Stillman and his group have not finalized their purchase agreement, and the NHL (as of right now) runs the Blues. This is very similar to the situation that the Phoenix Coyotes have found themselves in the past several seasons.
However, there are two main differences between St. Louis and Phoenix. One is that the Blues play in a much more stable market that has proven it can support an NHL team. The Blues have sold out nearly all of their home games the past two seasons and ratings are up for Fox Sports Midwest games. The lack of ownership can also be attributed to the fact that former minority owner David Checketts and head of the group backed by Towerbrook Capitol was initially asking too high of a price and was also seeking to remain in control of the team even though he would have a minority stake in the team; not a good stance (you can buy the team and spend the majority of the money, but I’m still the boss; not happening). The other factor delaying the sale process can be traced back to the fact that Matthew Hulsizer took way too long to finalize his purchase agreement, which was finally shot down by the NHL right after the New Year.
The other difference between the Blues and Coyotes is that the Blues have dominated the NHL this year. Not to take anything away from the Coyotes’ recent success in leading their division, but there is a slight difference in being tied for 75 points for the top spot in the Pacific (for the 1st time all season) with Dallas in one of the weakest divisions in the NHL versus being at or near the top of the entire NHL standings all season. Yes, the Blues will have to win a playoff round or two before they can be included in discussions of elite teams that include the Bruins, Redwings, Blackhawks, and Canucks, but it’s safe to say that the Blues are an elite team.
I met with former Blues forward and Coyotes color analyst Tyson Nash back in January. The ownership situation is weighing very heavily on the Coyotes, particularly the staff and players’ wives. When you’re a player, you’re on the ice and with the team the majority of the time so there’s little to no time to ponder the future and or worry about it. If you’re an arena vendor, mother of children in school that will have to be uprooted, or an equipment technician whose born and bred in Arizona, it’s a different story. Whether it’s Kansas City, Seattle, Las Vegas, or (most likely) Quebec City, the writing is on the wall that there is not going to be an owner willing to sink millions of dollars into an NHL team in a non-NHL market. However, in St. Louis there is a different breed of optimism. This problem can and will be solved very soon as there will be no shortage of suitors to buy the team if Tom Stillman’s group cannot come up with the financing in a timely manner.
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Written by Patrick McLellan