The Blues' ownership situation has never been as dramatic as that of the Phoenix Coyotes' or the Atlanta Thrashers'. There hasn't been the protracted search for an owner, the bankruptcy threats, and the public gnashing of teeth that seems to have gone on for an eternity in Glendale. There hasn't been the suddenness and the urgency of the Thrashers, nor has there been a contentious ownership group that has been more interested in suing each other and their own law firm than turning a profit on the ice.
No, since the announcement by team President and 20% owner Dave Checketts in March of this year that the Blues were actively searching for investors to replace Towerbrook's 70% share of the team, it's been a fairly quiet, behind the scenes kind of production. It hasn't been very public, it hasn't gotten a lot of press - because there hasn't been much drama. Checketts just could no longer afford to pump money into the team, nor could Towerbrook Capital Partners. That was that. Did they have to sell right that moment? No. They've been able to operate the Blues, albeit on a bit of a shoestring budget, fairly well since then. There hasn't been any obvious repercussions on ice, as the Blues never slummed it for free agents and prospects - they just had to be smart with their money, and they have been.
Perhaps these miserly ways are what have kept this issue from blowing up like other beleaguered teams in the league. Honestly, very little has been said about it in the press since Checketts' announcement other than a basic "we're still actively looking." It's been nothing but professional, and despite some fans' reservations or even anger at Checketts, most have been understanding of the process and of the issue.
Recently, though, rumblings have started to happen regarding the Blues' and Checketts' financial strength. It began last month with a tweet from Mike Ozanian, Forbes Magazine's sports business guy:
Don't be surprised if St Louis Blues move to Canada.
That's it. No story to go with, no evidence, not even Mr. Unnamed Source, Esq. was there to back this up. Personally, I doubted this. Despite Ozanian's correctness that the Thrashers were moving to Canada, this repeat of the Blues to Saskatoon nonsense was too much. After all, a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and the nut for the impending move of the Thrashers was so bit that the squirrel version of Hellen Keller would have found it in under ten seconds.
Needless to say, this tweet surprised many, worried some, and got numerous others upset at Ozanian's basic lack of internet reporting/Twitter skills. Despite the oddness of a team that had 41 sellouts last season up and moving, the fact that he mentioned the Blues like this led some to wonder about the sale process. Was it starting to fall through? Was there a problem?
Recent news reports are starting to show that yes, Checketts is hitting a few bumpy patches. Checketts is trying to raise equity in the team, but has only been able to raise $50 million of the needed $250 million (which strikes me as a lot of equity for a team appraised by Forbes at around $165 million). Ozanian struck again after this article was posted, this time using Mr. Unnamed Source's cousin, Mr. Unnamed Sports Banker:
Sports banker: "there is no equity value in the St. Louis Blues."
Well, ha, Mr. Banker. There's apparently $50 million worth of equity. So there.
But in all seriousness, why is Checketts trying to raise equity? To keep from defaulting on a $120 million loan from Citygroup, perhaps? The words "default on a loan" oftentimes lead people to jump to the conclusion that a bankruptcy is coming. While those two do often go together, that's not necessarily the case here. He plans to get an extension on the loan, and these plans - and that extension - are bolstered by the fact that there are three interested buyers out there, somwhere, willing to plunk down money to help hockey in St. Louis grow.
Do the budget problems hurt the Blues? Of course. Bernie Miklasz is spot on when he says that there's a potential for budgetary woes to hamper the Blues' progress into a playoff contender. But with the end in sight according to Checketts, and the line up basically solidified, the Blues still have managed to wade through this off season, and they've come out smelling like roses. No drama, no relocation, no NHL intercession.
The Blues are lucky. This could be so much worse.