The Preds Reboot

Nashville Predators ownership team chairman, Tom Cigarran (left) who eschews
the owner’s box for the stands, had all of Preds Nation cheering Wednesday with
his announcement of the end of the Boots Del Biaggio era in Music City. (Photos
courtesy Nashville Business Journal [left] and San Jose Business Journal [right])

A Wonderful Wednesday
Yesterday was indeed a great day. I got a lot done, yet still had time to cavort with my online friends, including (and especially) my fellow Predators fans.

As you probably know if you read the big three Predators blogs (by my count, anyway), On The Forecheck, Section303, and PredsOnTheGlass, Wednesday was not just a great day for Nashville’s hockey club, it was phenomenal.

Tom Cigarran, Chairman of the Predators ownership group announced on 104.5 The Zone’s Sportsnight radio talk show Wednesday afternoon that the long wait over the disposition of redistribution of shares formerly held by William “Boots” Del Biaggio is finally over, and with an outcome that should be celebrated by anyone who loves this team.

Um…Canadian Hockey Media? Sorry; that leaves you out.

Federal bankruptcy court has ruled that the Preds ownership group will be allowed to re-acquire the 27% share in the team that Del Biaggio fraudulently obtained in 2007 while the team was being jettisoned by former owner, Craig Leipold.

It wasn’t completely unknown at the time that his  finances went ‘boots-up,’ but the power given to Del Biaggio, written into the language of that minority share, should have had anyone with a nose retching uncontrollably from the stench of the ulterior motives from which it wreaked.

Stop me if you’ve read this before…
Due to The Nashville Tennessean’s ridiculous pull quickly, archive, and, fleece you policy, the pertinent articles from two years ago are no longer available online without a fee. However, I was able to find a copy-and-pasted transcript of a July 13, 2008 piece, written soon after the bankruptcy bubble had burst for ol’ Mr. Del B-ai-got-caught-tio, which was posted verbatim on a Kansas City Chiefs messageboard, and is fortunately still available to view.

The article remains a poignant artifact, as this unfortunate moment in Predators history thankfully draws to a close. In it, Tennessean writer, Brad Schrade offers a surprisingly supportive account of Del Biaggio’s treachery.

But don’t get me wrong, Schrade didn’t have his application for the Preds fan club in mind when he wrote the article. If anything his slant was consistent with his habit of painting the affairs of the Predators as a millstone around the neck of Nashville, with the Del Biaggio affair just one more piece of tinder for the fire that the fish-wrapper has continually built to warm the hands of a still-vocal anti-hockey minority in this city.

The only difference between this article from most of the rest was that Schrade’s typical sneering innuendo was replaced by appropriate outrage, directed at the villainous tactics revealed soon after Del Biaggio’s house of cards collapsed.

To Schrade’s credit, he did unearth information worthy of a cheap spy novel: a Powerpoint presentation that Del Biaggio was allegedly using to recruit additional investors to his hockey-related investment group, Forecheck Holdings; one that made assumptions about his intent to relocate of the team almost as clear as previous Preds suitor, Jim Balsillie’s brazen action of soliciting season ticket deposits for the ‘Hamilton, Ontario Predators.’

In Consideration of a Bullet Dodged
The significance of all this, in my opinion, is the opportunity to now look back and really consider the Del Biaggio bullet that the Predators have now successfully dodged.

My other favorite Preds blog, on Thursday posted a masterful capsule summary of Wednesday’s events, but from a more investor-centric angle. The View From 111s Mark Willoughby, a finance guy himself, brings into view the gravity of the involvement of yet another outside investor in the ‘Boots’ fiasco, Warren Woo, the California venture capitalist who was connected with and additionally duped by Del Biaggio via the latter’s Forecheck Holdings (oh, and for the record, Dirk Hoag assures me he was not involved…).

Woo’s five percent stake in the team was never enough to cause genuine concern, and according to former Preds Chairman, David Freeman, the angles indicated in Del Biaggio’s investor recruitment presentation were “false and misleading” and had no genuine basis in probability.

The plausibility of the Forecheck group seizing control of the Predators was remote, and dependent upon a number of financial triggers that were never even close to happening, thanks to the tremendous effort by local pro-hockey entities such as Save Our Team to drive season ticket sales and Predators management, by continuing to place a successful team on the ice, spurring attendance well beyond the minimum average threshold of 14,000 butts-in-seats.

Yeah, It Coulda Been Worse
Things were more than bad enough, what with the carousel of negative publicity brought on by the Del Biaggio collapse; but imagine what could have happened if Boots’ circumstances had remained intact? To have the team’s second-highest-ranked single investor actively engaged in planning a coup d’état to wrest control and subsequently move the team is unthinkable in its potential devastation, not to mention its dastardliness.

Who knows what efforts Boots could and would have taken behind the scenes, to sabotage the Preds’ efforts for success, seeking instead to force the hand of the other local owners to throw in the towel and allow him to buy them out?

However, despite missing the playoffs in 2008-09 and the Del Biaggio bankruptcy proceedings dragging on, a faint optimism became more and more pervasive in Preds Nation, culminating in the proud showing of this past 2009-2010 season, with the team once again achieving the 100 point milestone and earning a 7th seed in the Western Conference while the pundits – like clockwork – had picked them to finish out of the running.

However, as long as Del Biaggio’s shares were still out there, in limbo, potentially positioned to be sold to yet another outside interest, the franchise continued to walk on eggshells, and the media never ceased to stir the soup.

This Could Change Everything
With all credit due to David Freeman, who spearheaded the assembly of the local investors, effectively precluding Del Biaggio from purchasing the Predators outright, the future looks brighter with his successor, Tom Cigarran in the charman’s executive chair.

Cigarran has duly impressed Predators fans in the weeks since the July 8th 2010 Skate of the Union meeting at Bridgestone Arena, with his bullish-on-Nashville – and, most importantly – his bullish-on-the Preds message, which he reprised on the radio Wednesday.

Cigarran’s battle cry of making Bridgestone Arena the “Number one sports venue in America,” is a believable one and should have always been the goal of the proprietors of Music City’s entertainment showpiece. Previous administrations seemed to act as if that situation would simply happen on its own – along with a number of other assumptions. It’s certainly nice to actually hear someone state publicly, that this is an aspiration to be actively pursued.

However, Cigarran’s equally public goal of “bringing the Stanley Cup to Nashville – and just not for display, either,” is almost unheard of in its boldness.

I for one have almost never gotten the feeling that Predators’ ownership could even hope to expect its team to one day hoist The Cup. It has certainly always been an internal goal for Head Coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poille, but has never seemed to emanate from ownership with any kind of legitimate expectation.

Cigarran’s bold assertion at the SOTU really got the blood pumping in heart of Preds Nation, as did the announcement of Shea Weber as the team’s new Captain. However he couldn’t have said it without good reason to expect that it was possible.

We now understand what drives that expectation.

A Bright Future Indeed
With the Del Biaggio quagmire now all but negotiated, the ownership group can, for the first time, actively market their team, without fear of external subterfuge – covert or not.

The rebuilding of the franchise following its attempted destruction by outgoing owner Leipold is now nearly complete. The Preds have a great group of prospects from which to grow, or deal, to shore up deficiencies elsewhere.

The level of commitment to the Trotz system last season was unprecedented and looks to be even stronger going forward. That bodes extremely well for the future.

Everyone outside of Nashville has continually derided the Predators ownership for being a ‘taker’ in the profit-sharing program of the NHL, never delving into the upper-reaches of the league’s salary cap as is usually necessary to field a team capable of contending beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Well, now you have their answer as to a good portion of the reason why.

And while this isn’t doesn’t necessarily signal the dawning of mad-cap spending for the Preds, it does usher in the likelihood that the team will no longer limit themselves in the way they have operated since taking over in 2007.

One telling indication was that of Cigarran’s surprisingly candid revelation that newly-minted Captain Shea Weber’s contract negotiations were not anticipated to be a burden to the team, or to be protracted, as has been the assumption of most external media opinion-makers; many of whom have asserted that Weber would use his impending UFA status to bolt to a Canadian team and a megabucks contract.

Cigarran not only dashed that notion authoritatively, but even intimated that a salary figure for Weber had already been agreed upon in principle.

So no, once again, dear Canadian media and other anti-Nashville hockey pundits, the Preds aren’t going anywhere, and neither is Shea Weber. The team isn’t on its last legs, financially – in fact, they’re just gettin’ those dogs warmed up.

I’ll admit, even for someone like me, who has understood and supported the reality of the team’s financial circumstances, it was tough to believe that the ownership group would ever truly escape the poorhouse. There are teams in every sport whose ownership is more concerned with profitability than winning; teams that are perennial parasites rather than those willing to step up.

Craig Leipold, to his credit, rolled the dice in 2007, and went out to get Peter Forsberg, but we now know that move was made with one foot already out the door; with his negotiations to purchase the Minnesota Wild already in progress.

Whether the fact that Leipold lost millions on the Predators was the fault of his leadership or the negative purveyance of a non-traditional local hockey market will become apparent in due time, as the Preds ownership group’s fiscal patience has now apparently paid off.

They now have a fresh start; let’s see just what they can do with it.

In my opinion, it’s kinda like dealing with your own personal financial lifestyle. Nobody likes to go around talking about how deeply in debt they are; but if they’re smart, they’ll buck the trend of those of lesser fiscal intelligence who continually live beyond their means, but rather, live frugally until they’re back in the black.

The Preds are back in control of their destiny, and that destiny has never looked better.

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8 Responses to “The Preds Reboot”

  1. Buddy Oakes July 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    Another quality piece as always.

  2. Jason Bates July 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Outstanding analysis. Well done. Now let’s get to October!

  3. blueline July 23, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Excellent job and a great read. There is a new aura surrounding the Preds – maybe I am wrong and maybe it’s all just part of the ‘hope springs eternal’ mindset, but it seems that the players, owners, staff and fans all seem to be at a higher level of excitement and confidence. Others have stated this even before Wednesday’s announcement heralding the coming end of the disruptive Boots saga.

    I am looking forward to an exciting season of hockey. Win or lose, the on-ice product will be more fun to watch.

    One small note – Shea is an RFA not a UFA at the end of this season. However, it appears that it matters not as the indications are quite positive at this time that he’s going to remain in Nashville. Go Preds!

    • ajinnashville July 23, 2010 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks for the great comment, Blueline, and for once again providing the reality/fact checking service my readers seem to be giving me these days! *LOL* Of course Shea’s a restricted free agent; my bad. I suppose I was thinking in terms of the fact that if he were to get past July 1st next summer, he’d be as good as a UFA, because no doubt several teams would throw an offer sheet at him that’d be out of sight. But as you say, it matters not. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him re-upped before the season starts; in fact I’ll be shocked if he isn’t.

      Regarding the excitement, and anticipation, it’s something that @Forechecker and I were talking about the other day; it’s palpable, isn’t it? I really think Trotz has the team on the same page, and the future certainly does look bright!

  4. Chris January 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    I know I am about 6 months late on reading this but I have to say it is one of the best writings that I have seen about the Boots purchase. Great job AJ.

    • ajinnashville January 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

      Thanks, Chris! And thanks for taking the time to dig it up! :)

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