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Plenty of stickhandling before any Oilers sale

October 24, 1997

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) _ There will be plenty of legal stickhandling before Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington is to complete a reported sale of the team, city officials say.

``There will not be a deal today,″ said Rick LeLacheur of Economic Development Edmonton, a municipal group that is one of the parties to the deal that kept the team in the Alberta capital in 1994.

``As far as I’m concerned, this total thing is speculation ... If Mr. Pocklington has made a tentative agreement with Mr. Alexander, there’s still a ton of things to work through.″

LeLacheur was referring to published reports this week that Pocklington has worked out an informal deal with Leslie Alexander, owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

The reported deal would have Alexander buy the team for about $85 million with a promise to keep the team in Edmonton for three years. If the team is losing money, however, Alexander could move it to Houston.

If it’s profitable, Alexander would sell the team to local bidders and win the right to a new expansion franchise in Houston.

But the 1994 deal contains a clause that keeps the Oilers in Edmonton until 2004, said Mayor Bill Smith.

``We do have a location agreement in place. It’s real. It’s binding,″ he said.

Neither Pocklington nor Alexander has contacted the city about any changes to the agreement, LeLacheur said.

``On a business deal there’s a lot more to be done than a handshake. We are a party to any agreement ... If there’s an owner to the Edmonton Oilers that’s outside the city, that’s really fine, providing they’re prepared to keep the team here.″

Houston Rockets spokeswoman Angela Blakeney said Alexander was bound by a confidentiality agreement not to release any details of the process. She said Alexander was in Houston on Friday afternoon.

Alexander was behind a failed expansion bid earlier this year to bring the NHL to Houston.

The Oilers offered no comment, except to say Friday’s front-page story in the Edmonton Journal under the headline SOLD was media speculation.

Published reports have suggested the NHL has been part of the talks and would approve the deal.

The league said Friday it had no comment.

Two local groups have filed bids for the team, although it’s believed Alexander’s bid tops their offers, reportedly in the $70-million range.

There also is a second group from Houston interested in the Oilers, the Toronto Sun reported Thursday.

Although Pocklington ultimately decides who gets the team, the NHL must approve any change in ownership.

Some observers have suggested this could be the best deal for everyone.

The Oilers, given the increase in TV revenues anticipated when current deals are renegotiated in 1999, are expected to remain profitable. That would keep them in Edmonton and give Houston its long-desired hockey team.

As well, Pocklington would be able to repay most of his debts to the Alberta Treasury Branches, recently estimated by the Edmonton Journal to be as high as $120 million. Those debts also give the bank a say in the team’s sale.

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