Originally created 03/15/03

Sabres buyer gives NHL hope



BUFFALO, N.Y. - By securing a $92 million deal to buy the Buffalo Sabres, B. Thomas Golisano has given NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a new reason to believe in the league's viability.

"I think people should stop worrying about the Sabres in Buffalo, because our knight on a white horse came riding in," Bettman said Friday during a news conference announcing Golisano's offer. "And to the extent there are things we have to do at the league level long-term, we'll deal with that an appropriate time."

The bankrupt Sabres were in jeopardy of folding after the end of this season. Golisano's arrival not only rescues the team, but it also provides a lift for a league facing an uncertain future.

The Sabres and Ottawa Senators filed for Chapter 11 protection within days of each other in January. With several other teams up for sale, there have been questions about whether contraction might be the NHL's best option for survival.

Golisano sat next to Bettman in the lobby of the Sabres' arena Friday as the commissioner dismissed speculation that the league might consider eliminating any of its 30 teams.

"Contraction is something we have not ever considered, and it's not anything we intend to consider," Bettman said. "The fact that we're all sitting here today, and Tom is stepping up the way he is, is proof positive that contraction is not on our agenda."

Pending approval from U.S. Bankruptcy court and the NHL board of governors, Golisano all but ended eight months of uncertainty by signing an asset purchase agreement to buy the Sabres on Thursday.

"I know it's been a difficult ordeal for everybody," Golisano said. "Maybe we can look at this as closing a chapter of the Buffalo Sabres and moving on to a new one. ... I'm very excited about creating a new era."

Golisano's offer already has been approved by Adelphia Communications, the nation's fifth-largest cable television company and the Sabres' largest creditor.

Earlier in the day, Golisano's offer was submitted to Judge Michael Kaplan, who approved a motion to move the sale process forward. Barring any outside offers, which are not expected, Golisano could own the team by April 10.

Any potential competing bid would have to be at least $3 million more than Golisano's.

According to court papers, Golisano's offer includes $45 million in assumed liabilities, up to $25 million in projected team debt this season and a $22 million concession loan.

Despite not being legally bound to do so, Golisano also has offered to pay $2.5 million owed to unsecured creditors, which include former Sabres star Gilbert Perreault.

"This franchise has been here for 33 years, and it would've been very sad to say Buffalo doesn't have a hockey team anymore," Perreault said. "But now, Mr. Golisano is here and it looks like it's going to be here for a long time."

As part of the deal, Golisano would assume operational control of the Sabres' arena, as well as the National Lacrosse League's Buffalo Bandits.

The NHL took over operating control of the Sabres last June after the team's former owner, John Rigas, was forced to step down as chairman of Adelphia.

Adelphia, which filed for Chapter 11 last summer, is owed between $130 million and $160 million, which Rigas used to help buy and run the team since the mid-1990s. Rigas has since been indicted on federal fraud charges.

The 61-year-old Golisano is founder and chairman of Rochester-based Paychex, the nation's second-largest payroll-processing company. In last year's campaign for New York governor, he spent more than $75 million in what became the most expensive non-presidential race in U.S. history.

In November, the NHL rejected Golisano's initial bid to buy the Sabres, giving conditional approval to Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister and New York City financier Todd Berman. Golisano was offering $13 million less than Hamister in guaranteed money to Adelphia.

Golisano re-entered the bidding process in February when Hamister suspended his bid after failing to receive commitments for state assistance.