NHL board of governors OKs sales of Blues, Coyotes

NEW YORK -- The NHL board of governors approved the sale of the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday to a group headed by Dave Checketts, the former president of Madison Square Garden.

The deal, reached March 24, transfers ownership of the Blues -- the league's worst team this season -- and the Savvis Center from Bill and Nancy Laurie to Checketts and his Sports Capital Partners and Towerbrook Capital Partners.

The board also approved the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes by Steve Ellman to Jerry Moyes at its annual end of season meeting.

"All the sales were approved and things are in a position to continue moving forward toward a closing," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

The financial part of the reported $150 million sale of the Blues isn't finished yet. Checketts said he expects the deal to be done soon, and Bettman added that he didn't foresee any hangups.

"We're extremely pleased to have been unanimously approved ... pending closure of the sale," Checketts said in a statement. "The next and final steps of this process are in front of us, and we anticipate a successful completion to the sale in the days ahead."

The Blues made the NHL playoffs for 25 straight seasons before this year. Stars such as Chris Pronger and Doug Weight were traded as the club stripped its payroll, and St. Louis won only 21 games and finished with a league-low 57 points.

Pronger, of the Edmonton Oilers, and Weight, a Carolina Hurricanes forward, faced off in the Stanley Cup finals. St. Louis hasn't won a championship since joining the NHL in 1967.

Checketts didn't attend the board of governors meeting at a Manhattan hotel, located a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden -- the sight of his greatest sports accomplishments. While in New York, he ran the New York Knicks, the Garden, the New York Rangers and the WNBA's Liberty.

The Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999 while he was in charge. Now Checketts will try to fix the Blues, who fell from the top 10 in the league in attendance to the bottom five during their dismal season -- the first following the NHL lockout.

The rebuilding process will start at this weekend's draft in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Our agreement has permitted us to be part of the planning, scouting and evaluation process," Checketts said. "There are extremely qualified hockey people who will make the draft day decisions for the Blues, and those decisions will have been made with our input."

The Blues were represented at the board meeting, one of four held each year, by Brent Karasiuk -- the chief operating officer of the Lauries' Paige Sports Entertainment group. The Lauries announced plans to sell the Blues 10 months before reaching the deal with Checketts. They said they lost millions of dollars since buying the club in 1999.

Moyes, the Coyotes' majority owner, will take over now that he has split his partnership with Ellman in the company that owns the team and the development complex around Glendale Arena. Ellman owns 25 percent and will be in charge of the planned Westgate retail project.

Moyes, Ellman and Wayne Gretzky bought the Coyotes in 2001 for about $125 million. Gretzky, who will continue to have a minority ownership in both projects, went 38-39-5 in his first season as the team's head coach and then signed a five-year deal to stay behind the bench.

Bettman confirmed that next season's salary cap will rise from $39 million per team to $44 million, "give or take a couple of hundred thousand dollars. The floor will be $16 million less."

"We had all-time record revenues," Bettman said. "When the revenues grow, the players share. How strong the game came back is a testament to the game, our fans, our players and our clubs.

"Like the fans of the game, the governors were pleased with the season," he said.

While the playoff and schedule formats will be the same next season, U.S. cable television rights-holder OLN -- soon to be known as Versus -- will get more attractive games on its nights of exclusivity. That didn't happen this season because the schedule was made before a deal was reached to switch to OLN from ESPN.

The Hurricanes' 3-1 win over Edmonton in Game 7 of the finals Monday had a 3.3 rating and 6 share on NBC, down 21 percent from Game 7 in 2004, when Tampa Bay beat Calgary.

"Patience is the answer," Bettman said. "Ratings don't define us."

Starting in January, teams will no longer be able to demand compensation for executives who get jobs from other clubs. An organization has the right to refuse to allow someone under a long-term contract to move to another team, but that person will be free to go if permission is granted.

Owners also heard a report from Colin Campbell, the director of hockey operations, on rules changes implemented this year. Bettman said he liked the adjustments and wasn't looking to eliminate any.

He also said the league is exploring the possibility of staging another outdoor game like the November 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.