Esposito in the hunt to buy Lightning once again

The NHL, eager to hand a team to anyone meeting the asking price of $50-million welcomed Esposito's group and the equally shaky Ottawa Senators aboard. Then it turned out that while the duke really was royalty, he was also a con man and his cheque bounced.

The Globe and Mail
October 9, 2003

Esposito in the hunt to buy Lightning once again
David Shoalts

TORONTO — Phil Esposito enjoyed a great career as a player but wound up with a lot of bruises when he became a general manager and sort of an owner, although it is the latter that makes for interesting reading in his rollicking book about his days in the National Hockey League.

Thunder and Lightning: A No-B.S. Hockey Memoir (McClelland and Stewart) will hit the bookstores on Saturday, and Esposito, who was in Toronto yesterday flogging the book, says being forced out of both his ownership position and general manager's job of the expansion team he conceived and sold to the NHL with all the nerve of a carnival huckster has not soured him on hockey.

In his spare time from radio and television work, Esposito is trying to put together another group to buy back the Tampa Bay Lightning from their latest owner, William Davidson.

"I'm about 60 per cent there," Esposito said, adding that uncertainty over the NHL's potential labour troubles is keeping potential investors away. "We'll get it together and then we'll make it happen."

And this time, he said, he will go into the venture a lot more knowledgeable than he was in 1990 when he dreamed up the idea of an NHL team in Tampa.

"I was totally out of my element," he said of his first attempt to put an ownership group together. "I was a player, not a business guy. I look back now and I marvel at myself. That was the greatest accomplishment of my hockey career."

But the Lighting were also chronically underfunded, surviving a British duke who turned out to be a con man, only to endure absentee ownership by a group of Japanese businessmen and become the laughingstock of the league.

Esposito's struggles and his insider's tales of trying to be the GM of the New York Rangers in the snake pit of Madison Square Garden, where upper management killed his trade for Wayne Gretzky days before the player went to Bruce McNall and the Los Angeles Kings, make a good read. So do his days as a player when the boys in the NHL, unlike today's dour, superfit millionaires, worried mostly about having a good time when the game was over.

The problem with the Gretzky deal, and one for Mark Messier that would have brought him to New York years before he finally arrived to lead them to the 1994 Stanley Cup long after Esposito was fired, was that the Paramount executives didn't really care about winning the Cup and Gretzky wasn't going to sell any more tickets in a sold-out building.

"They didn't want to spend $15-million on Gretzky, so L.A. did it and they didn't even have the money," Esposito said, referring to former owner Bruce McNall's financial shenanigans that landed him in prison. "I said [to the bosses], 'You got the wrong guy, because I want to win.' I was shocked about that. The Messier thing, I told them for $5-million we could get Messier. They didn't even care about that."

One of the book's best tales concerns the Duke of Manchester, who presented himself as British royalty and a man who wanted into the ownership group. Esposito checked him out through the British embassy in Washington and was assured the man was, indeed, a cousin of the Queen and the beneficiary of a $350-million (all figures U.S.) trust fund. Esposito was trying to persuade the reluctant Japanese to come aboard, and when the duke presented him with a cheque for $3-million, he handed it over to the NHL.

The NHL, eager to hand a team to anyone meeting the asking price of $50-million welcomed Esposito's group and the equally shaky Ottawa Senators aboard. Then it turned out that while the duke really was royalty, he was also a con man and his cheque bounced.


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Outright scam, Qualify as franchisee if you fog a mirror & the check clears, Canada, United States, 20031009 Esposito in

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License