Blues confirm sale of team to Checketts group

ST. LOUIS -- Dave Checketts is buying the NHL's second-worst team, but he's already thinking Stanley Cup.

The Blues announced Friday that owners Bill and Nancy Laurie will sell the team and the Savvis Center to Checketts and his Sports Capital Partners and Towerbrook Capital Partners. The NHL Board of Governors must still approve the deal.

"Next season we will move ahead and begin working toward the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup championship," Checketts said at a news conference. "That's what I think is very possible and I want our fans clearly to know that."

Checketts, whose investment firm also owns Utah's Real Salt Lake Major League Soccer team and a minor-league hockey team, also wanted fans to know that he is committed to keeping the Blues in St. Louis.

"Any notion that we bought this to go elsewhere is silly at this point," Checketts said.

A lease locks the Blues in St. Louis until the 2010-11 season.

Details of the sale were not released, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported its value at $150 million.

The Lauries announced plans to sell the team 10 months ago, saying they had lost millions since purchasing the franchise in 1999. Adding to their woes was a 2004-05 season lost to a lockout.

The deal comes as the Blues head into the final stretch of their second-worst season ever. A 25-season streak of postseason appearances ended Thursday when the Blues were officially eliminated from the playoffs. They are now tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the second-worst record in the NHL, with 51 points.

The team is short on stars and veteran players, many of whom were traded over the past 10 months, bringing the Blues' payroll well below the salary cap. Stars Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra and Doug Weight were among those dealt.

The Blues have never won a Stanley Cup but were a perennial contender until this season. Getting back to that level will require drafting, developing, trading for and signing players that can be part of a winning culture, Checketts said. The league's new collective bargaining agreement has leveled the playing field and will help facilitate that, he said.

"I want that challenge," he said. "Our clear sense is that we're gonna create an environment where winning is highly valued."

Checketts, 50, became the youngest person ever to run an NBA team when he took over as president and general manager of the Utah Jazz at age 28 in 1984.

After leaving the Jazz, he ran the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, which also owns the New York Rangers and the WNBA's New York Liberty. Under his leadership, the Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.

Lack of success on the ice this season has resulted in a big drop in attendance at Blues games. The Blues ranked sixth in the league in 2003-04, averaging 18,560 fans per game. This season, they're 26th with 14,080 fans per game.

"The fans are the reason we get into this business," Checketts said. "The fans here are worth a goal a game to the Blues."