Originally created 01/25/03

NHL grants Hamister fourth extension to buy bankrupt Sabres



BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The NHL granted Mark Hamister his fourth and what could be his final extension on Friday to complete the conditional purchase of the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres.

Hamister, a Buffalo businessman, and majority partner Todd Berman, a New York City financier, now have until Feb. 3 to sign a purchase asset agreement or risk relinquishing their rights to buy the Sabres, opening the possibility of the team moving or folding at the end of this season.

In issuing the extension, the NHL stressed that "a definitive purchase agreement will need to be finalized" by the new deadline.

"We continue to work to resolve this matter for the Sabres and their fans and anticipate the closing of the transaction will be attained as soon as possible once the purchase agreement has been finalized," NHL executive vice president Bill Daly said.

Approved by the NHL last November, Hamister and Berman initially had until Jan. 3 to secure their financing. The NHL had previously extended the prospective bidders' deadline by three one-week increments. The last extension was to end Friday.

Hamister, whose bid is contingent on more than $40 million in government assistance, would not explain what continues to hold up the sale process, only to say: "We continue to make progress, but people need to understand this is an incredibly complex negotiation which requires a great deal of time and attention."

Part of the holdup is the state government's unwillingness to grant Hamister's request to refinance a $22.9 million loan taken out to help build HSBC Arena, the Sabres' home.

Even if the asset purchase agreement is signed, the actual sale of the team would still be conditional on state, county and city levels of government delivering an assistance package.

It's unclear how much longer the league can wait on the prospective bidders. The Sabres, who owe creditors more than $206 million, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which opens the possibility of the team being sold to an outside bidder.

The Sabres status is even more tenuous as the team is currently operating on a $10 million line of credit to cover operating expenses.

Hamister addressed the level of anxiety that grows with each delay.

"We only have one opportunity to do this right, and we are steadfast in doing the right things so that the Buffalo Sabres stay in Buffalo, play in Buffalo and succeed in Buffalo," Hamister said. "We realize that the community is very anxious about the future of the Buffalo Sabres and, as such, are working very hard to bring these complex negotiations to a conclusion."