Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano speaks during a news conference announcing the sale of the NHL hockey team in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Future Sabres owner Terry Pegula can never move the team from Buffalo under terms of his US$189 million deal to buy the NHL franchise.
Majority owner B. Thomas Golisano revealed Thursday he turned down an earlier purchase offer that would have involved shifting the team he bought out of bankruptcy to another city, even though it was for $70 million more.
While Pegula, a self-described die-hard Sabres fan with ties to western New York, has never indicated he'd want to leave, the no-move provision was a must, said Golisano, who is credited with keeping the team from folding or relocating with his own purchase in 2003.
The sale is expected to close in about 30 days, pending NHL and governmental approval, Golisano said at HSBC Arena, where he met with players and employees to say goodbye.
"Is this a mixed emotion day?" Golisano said. "Of course it is."
Larry Quinn, one of two minority owners, said he would step down as managing partner after the sale. The other, Daniel DiPofi, is expected to stay on through the transition.
While the sale is pending, the current owners have promised Pegula they won't trade certain players and will let him know about other moves as the Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches. They would not identify the protected players.
"We are free to make player transactions," Quinn said. "We have to notify (Pegula) but we don't need his approval."
The Sabres gave general manager Darcy Regier a two-year contract extension in August, but coach Lindy Ruff, whose contract expires after this season, declined an offer. Ruff said Wednesday he wants to stay.
Pegula, 59, is the founder and former president of the energy company East Resources Inc., a major player in Pennsylvania's burgeoning natural gas industry that was sold to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $4.7 billion last year.
In a statement, Pegula said he was grateful to Golisano and Quinn for providing the foundation for the future success of the Sabres.
Under Golisano, the Sabres adopted variable ticket pricing to make weeknight and less important games more affordable, and boosted the number of season-ticket holders from 6,400 to more than 15,000, with more on a waiting list. The arena has also received numerous upgrades.
"Without their generosity and perseverance through tough economic times and league labour issues, there would not be a team for the Buffalo hockey community to support," said Pegula, who first approached Golisano about buying the team a year ago.
Golisano, a billionaire who founded payroll company Paychex in nearby Rochester in 1971, said he bought the Sabres as "a community service" but the rewards exceeded all expectations, from fan support to a hefty return on his investment.
Golisano's purchase of the troubled team was valued at $92 million, though he paid far less after about $25 million in loans were eventually forgiven.
The sale to Pegula comes as Golisano, who ran unsuccessfully for New York governor in 1994, 1998 and 2002, prepares to launch a project he described as governmental but not political later this month. He wouldn't elaborate, saying only it would be announced in Washington on Feb. 22.
A Ross Perot-inspired independent who co-founded New York's Independence Party, Golisano in 2009 publicly changed his legal residency to a Naples, Fla., condominium after New York raised its income tax rate for the wealthy from 6.85 per cent to 8.97 per cent. He has funded several campaigns at the state level as part of a reform effort.
In leaving the Sabres, he said his proudest moment was awarding players the Presidents' Trophy after the team finished the 2006-07 season with the league's best record. The team is currently 10th in the Eastern Conference and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Pegula is a Penn State graduate. His wife is from Rochester and they've previously lived in Orchard Park, a Buffalo suburb, and Olean, a 90-minute drive south. In buying the Sabres, he also takes over the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League.