No one is willing to say the odds favor success, but three parties working to salvage professional hockey in the Quad-Cities each have a different interested person or group willing to look at taking the ownership reins from departing Quad-City Mallards owner Eric Karls.
Former Mallards owner, president and general manager Howard Cornfield said he has spoken to one interested person or party and that i wireless Center general manager Scott Mullen has heard from another, while the Central Hockey League front office has unearthed still another potential Karls replacement.
"Hopefully, we can pull a rabbit out of our hat again," said Mullen, who succeeded in his efforts to salvage pro hockey in his Moline building two summers ago after the Triple-A American Hockey League Quad-City Flames closed for business. "The first step is to get anybody who is interested to come in, talk to them and explain the lay of the land."
Karls again did not respond to voicemail messages Monday.
Over the weekend, though, Mullen and Cornfield both had separate conversations with the 56-year-old lifelong hockey fan who bought into the minor league game last year after making millions in the clothing business.
Cornfield said Karls again mentioned concerns about the "landscape of minor league hockey," which was the explanation cited Wednesday on Karls' behalf by outgoing team president Chris Presson in breaking news of the owner's sudden decision to cease operations a day before.
Mullen said he finally spoke with Karls on Sunday after his own repeated attempts to contact the Canadian.
"There was nothing new, other than to say it's not working for him," Mullen said. "We're hoping to get somebody new in."
Mullen said Karls reiterated a willingness to help make that happen.
"Everybody is working at it, from Eric to us to the league," Mullen said. "And we all want it to happen as quickly as possible. But shopping and buying are two different things."
Mullen said Karls' plans are not entirely clear. If a buyer is found, the Canadian yet may seek some kind of a buyout, he indicated.
"The easiest thing for me would be if he says ‘I'm done. I'm out of here,'" Mullen said. "He is starting to say ‘Well ...'"
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Still, Mullen said attorneys for the i wireless Center and Karls are negotiating an end to the building's lease with Karls and Tape2Tape Sports and Entertainment LLC, and he said a new owner yet could come in with a clean slate.
As for a timetable, Mullen said, "The league obviously wants to move fast because you have players out there and a union. But it's the same situation we were in a couple of years ago. We will never say never until probably in July."
Cornfield is working in the same consulting capacity he filled two years back.
"I'm not pessimistic right now," said Cornfield, who also vowed to be realistic as to how a buyer might view the Q-C market right now.
"There has been some damage over the last few years. It is going to take someone with patience."
Mullen thought that person was Karls, who he said had reasons to see progress in late-season attendance growth last year.
"It was going in the right direction," he said. "We still don't know if all the people who used to come to Mallards games would show up for a winning team."