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Bettman: St. Louis Blues finances much better with new ownership group

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, left, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, center, and Tom Stillman pose for photos after a news conference introducing Stillman as the new majority owner of the St. Louis Blues hockey club, Thursday, May 10, 2012, in St. Louis. The Stillman group will become the eighth owner of the Blues since the franchise started in 1966. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, left, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, center, and Tom Stillman pose for photos after a news conference introducing Stillman as the new majority owner of the St. Louis Blues hockey club, Thursday, May 10, 2012, in St. Louis. The Stillman group will become the eighth owner of the Blues since the franchise started in 1966. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gave his stamp of approval to new St. Louis Blues ownership, saying the franchise's financial picture is much improved.

Bettman spent time at the podium alongside Tom Stillman, a beer distributor who heads an all-local ownership group, at a news conference Thursday.

"We know the future is extraordinarily bright," said Bettman, who referred to the Blues as a member of the NHL's "Original 12" franchises. "The balance sheet looks much, much better, much, much stronger.

"I know he won't rest until the players are hoisting the Stanley Cup."

Stillman, previously a minority owner, introduced 16 major investors including his father-in-law, former Missouri Senator John Danforth. He said the goal was to make the franchise financially sustainable for the long haul.

"We are honoured and humbled to take ownership," Stillman said. "Our new ownership group is 100 per cent local, and we are 100 per cent committed to the Blues and to St. Louis."

Stillman asked for support from fans, local businesses and the rest of the community. He said most in the ownership group are lifelong hockey fans and most have season boxes.

Coach Ken Hitchcock watched the news conference from a doorway alongside president John Davidson. Most players on the current roster attended, along with more than a dozen former Blues.

The sale was believed to be about US$130 million for the Blues, the AHL Peoria Rivermen, the Scottrade Center and what the team said was a "substantial" interest in the adjoining Peabody Opera House. The price is well below the $157 million that Forbes had valued the Blues in December, which was 27th among the 30 NHL teams according to the magazine.

The team sold for $150 million in 2006.

Stillman's group was a fallback option after a deal headed by Chicago businessman Mathew Hulsizer fell through this year.

"I'd have to say a lot of times I didn't think it was going to happen," Stillman said. "If there was another strong local option, I would have been OK with that, too."

The Blues have been for sale for two years and were at least $10 million below the NHL's salary cap last season. They're coming off one of the best regular seasons in franchise history with a mix of emerging talent and veterans. The 109 points tied for second-best in the NHL and Hitchcock, general manager Doug Armey and captain David Backes are finalists for awards.

St. Louis beat the San Jose Sharks in five games in the first round before getting swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round, a series that ended Sunday.

"We are fortunate to be taking over one of the best teams in the NHL, with a strong, mostly young nucleus and a very bright future," Stillman said. "Our top priority will be to put a serious contender on the ice year in and year out and to establish the Blues as an elite NHL franchise."

The Stillman group becomes the eighth owner of the Blues since the franchise began in 1966. They bought the team from Towerbrook Capital Partners and Sports Capital Partners Worldwide, a group headed by former franchise chairman Dave Checketts.

Stillman is chairman and chief executive officer of Summit Distributing and has owned a minority share in the Blues since 2007.

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