SUN Hockey Pool

Should Katz join Oilers discussion?

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Where there's smoke, there's fire?

Yesterday, the smoke was coming from the Petroleum Club.

That's where chairman Cal Nichols had gathered his Edmonton Oilers ownership group for an extraordinary meeting, followed by what could be viewed as an unusual bonding sort of dinner.

Five weeks after a $145 million bid by Daryl Katz to buy the NHL team, Nichols admitted going into the meeting that putting a new price tag on the team was the unusual item on the agenda.

By the time the group broke to break bread, the number was set at $125 million.

"It was almost unanimous, either in person or by proxy," said Nichols.

"It was a good discussion. And I think by far the feeling is that we're doing the right thing, continuing to move on and managing our business."

But this sort of business is usually conducted in October.

Why the need to do it now?

Nichols conceded that he doesn't think Katz was just looking for a little publicity when he threw out the $145 million figure to buy the team but wasn't encouraged to follow up with anything amounting to more than an inquiry.

"He's not kicking tires," admitted Nichols, who allowed that the move by Katz created some buzz among the shareholders.

"What's best for the community? A group like we have now or a single owner?

"There are differing opinions. But when we got into this it was for the community thing.

"The majority of the group wants to continue."

So why the new figure for the value of the franchise?

"We felt there was a need to establish a retirement amount," Nichols said of the value of each share in the group, which once numbered 39 owners but now is down to 33 plus one estate.

"Ten years have gone by. We've had two deaths and a couple of amalgamations.

"We've had requests to sell shares to other members of the group or people outside the group.

"The corporation can buy those shares back."

But he didn't deny the obvious.

"Katz is part of the reason we're doing this. We're trying the best we can to get the numbers right."

If an actual offer came from Katz, it would require a two-thirds majority from the shareholders.

Buying up individual shares would need 60% approval.

"Moving forward, we see a need for the consolidation. Because of what's going on, there was a need to stay current," Nichols said of the Katz bid in the background and a number of shareholders who are interested in selling with the current lack of crisis with the franchise.

"We established the value of the team at $60 million when we bought it in 1998.

"In 2002, when we had the cash call, we made it $75 million," said Nichols.

Whoa.

A couple of questions need to be answered here .

Who's out? And how many?

"Nobody wants to stand there and commit in front of partners and peers," said Nichols. "So we didn't make that part of it.

"I think there are some, definitely. How many? I have no idea. There are issues of aging.''

Nichols said the shareholders will now "consider their own individual situations and then have a discussion with the governance committee of our board."

Bottom line?

"I'm sensing there are some sellers. How many? Let's wait and see. I just don't know."

Katz can now figure out what each share is worth and go to work on each individual with a fat figure.

Or he could work from within by partnering up with a big shareholder like Bruce Saville.

This team is still not for sale. But in Katz's world, everything is for sale.

Until Katz comes out and publicly levels with the town for whom he supposedly wants to hold the hockey team in trust, there's still smoke.


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