SUN Hockey Pool

'Oilers are not for sale'

Cal Nichols, chairman of the board of directors of the Oilers ownership group, says the team will...

Cal Nichols, chairman of the board of directors of the Oilers ownership group, says the team will not be sold. (Sun Media/Jason Franson)

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Daryl Katz has apparently decided to take no for an answer.

The "No" was voiced with a definite bitterness by Edmonton Oilers ownership group chairman Cal Nichols yesterday.

And it was not only "No" - it was a "resounding vote to reject this offer" followed by what Nichols painted as an emphatically approved motion that "the Oilers are not for sale."

HOSTILE

In what many saw as a hostile takeover attempt of the franchise by Katz from the group of local businessmen who saved the franchise in 1998, Nichols was close to being hostile in making the announcement.

"It was overwhelming," he said of the vote to reject the Katz bid. "This is not about money, it's about doing the right thing for Edmonton," said Nichols.

The chairman also said it's about "a group best suited for Edmonton and the Oilers."

Will this end what Nichols described to be "something of a circus these last four months?"

Will it be the final offer to come from Katz, who started at $145 million, went to $150, and then to the $185 figure the group dealt with yesterday?

Katz issued a brief response.

"I'm disappointed that the ownership group has elected not to proceed with a sale but I accept their decision and wish them well. As an Oilers' fan and the franchise's largest corporate sponsor I will continue to be a major supporter of the team," he said.

The disturbing thing about the entire exercise with Katz is that not once did he stand in front of the public and explain why. Not once did he give the populace a chance to take the measure of the man, to judge whether he was just another rich guy in search of a toy.

This is about holding a team in trust for the community in a town which couldn't trust the last private owner, Peter Pocklington, to do that.

At least Katz's brief e-mail response suggests he's not soon to submit another bid.

It is not in the best interest of this community, this column has maintained, to have a single-owner situation when such a community group like this is already in place, with their hearts and wallets well on record of doing what is best for Edmonton. With effective community ownership in hockey and football, this city is blessed.

Katz, who owns the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical giant which includes the Rexall Pharmacy chain of stores, is reputed to be one of the 500 wealthiest people on the planet, with a net worth of $1.6 billion.

Indeed, it was not about the money.

TAKEN PERSONALLY

If he ever had a chance to own this team, it says here he queered the deal with a statement which inferred he'd be a better owner than the investors group and made statements about "playing to the cap" and promising to help bankroll a new downtown arena.

A lot of owners who might have been on the fence, took that personally. And that was before finding out the offer was nowhere near clear money.

"This morning our shareholders voted to reject this offer which was reported at $185 million, but is actually closer to $136 million after capital adjustments and tax treatment to bring the number to a per share value.

"The number is further reduced by contingent and employee severance liabilities, which we have no way of knowing what this cost could be."

He said it was, in effect, less than the $125 million the group has valued the franchise at for investors to sell their shares within the group.

When asked about a suggestion Katz had been invited to make an offer, Nichols said, "it was unsolicited."

Nichols made his own promises "to keep the Oilers competitive, spending to the cap, if and when the opportunity of winning presents itself."

He added "it's a bad strategy to spend to the cap at this time of year. The safe place is at about 90%."

The Oilers' budget is $45 million US. The cap is $50.3.

He also said the ownership group, as they have been on record since 2005, will "invest in a new arena."

Katz's earlier statement gave the public an inaccurate impression he'd be willing to build the arena himself. With Nichols's revelation of the strings attached to the offer, that picture was certainly popped.

The new arena is in the background to everything involved in this. It has always been my contention the investors group is best positioned to make it become a reality, not just for hockey, but for Edmonton. It's who they are. Their tentacles run through the entire town and all levels of government.

The building may very well end up with the Rexall name on it, but it'll be Edmonton's. And that, to me, is what this was really all about.


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