Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi has become the leading candidate to buy the Stars, according to two sources close to the sale of the team, and could become the stalking horse in what could eventually become an organized bankruptcy case that would allow the exchange of the ownership from a group of lenders led by Monarch Investments. The bankruptcy case could be necessary to make a clean separation from the complicated group of lenders (some who will not be compensated) and new ownership. The bankruptcy court would allow other buyers to outbid Gaglardi, but they would have to do so by a stated amount, and Gaglardi would receive compensation if he does not get the team. So how could Gaglardi help the Stars? Well, he's young (43) and well-heeled (his family owns one of the largest hotel/restaurant corporations in Canada _ Northland Properties), and his mother is from Texas, so he is very familiar with the area and the Stars. He is also a huge hockey fan, is the lead owner of a group that owns the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, and tried to buy the Vancouver Canucks in 2004. So with a Stars team that spent about $47 million in player payroll last season (ranking in the bottom five in the NHL), any increase in payroll would be a huge boost. The salary cap is expected to go to $63 million next season, and the floor would then be at $47 million. The Stars now have 17-18 players (depending on who plays in the minors and who plays in the NHL) under contract for about $38 million. If Gaglardi could approve a payroll of around $55 million, the Stars could have about $17 million to spend on 5-6 players. Now, that won't be as simple as it sounds. The lenders lost about $15 million this year spending $47 million on players, and the NBA lockout (if it lasts all season) could cost the Stars more than $5 million in lost revenue from the American Airlines Center. If a new owner wants to spend $55 million, there is an NBA lockout, and ticket sales don't increase, a new owner could potentially lose $28 million next season alone. That's one of the reasons it's been so difficult to get a buyer to commit to this team. But just as important as any money a new owner could put in, Gaglardi could bring to an end the twisting in the wind that Stars fans have had since Hicks Sports Group defaulted on more than $500 million in loans in March of 2009. Attendance was down more than 2,000 fans per game this season, from 17,215 in 2009-10 (ranking 17th in the NHL) to 15,073 this season (ranking 23rd). Part of that drop was in the way the Stars announce attendance figures and the fact new management was not giving away as many tickets, but it is a chilling reality that the Stars simply are not as popular as they once were in this area. They have missed the playoffs three years in a row, and this will probably be a tough sell for season tickets for next season. What the Stars are hoping is that fans see the transition to a younger brand of players (including Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen and Alex Goligoski), and that they will be invigorated by a new owner and a new coach. Gaglardi has deep ties to Kamloops, B.C., as he spends a lot of time there in the summer and he is in an ownership group with former Blazers players Darryl Sydor, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan and Mark Recchi. That means he's pretty familiar with former Stars (and former Kamloops) coach Ken Hitchcock, who has been mentioned as a candidate for the open coaching position. Nobody really knows how Gaglardi feels about this, because he is declining comment. He did the same thing when it was rumored he was trying to buy the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 and he did the same thing when I asked him about first becoming a candidate to buy the Stars. So, we'll just have to speculate as to how he feels about all of this. But the Stars would clearly like to have the ownership situation resolved by July 1 (to address both Brad Richards' pending free agency and to see if they can get into the market for any available players), and Joe Nieuwendyk might not be ready to hire a coach before then, so new ownership could definitely have a say in the choice. A couple of things that will turn up on a google search that might concern fans about Gaglardi is the fact that when he was rumored to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers, several papers said he wanted to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario. He can’t do that with the Stars, and he would not want to. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last year there is zero chance the Stars will move, and Forbes has them listed as the 10th most valuable team in the NHL at $228 million. They gain a great deal of their value from the American Airlines Center, and while ticket sales are down, North Texas can be a lucrative sports market. What's more, the team is primed for an extension to their regional television contract, which ends in 2013. The Stars are here to stay. Another thing that will turn up is the fact Gaglardi was involved in a long lawsuit over ownership of the Canucks. Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie felt they were part of a group with the Aquilini family in pursuing the Canucks in the early 2000s. The Aquilini's went out on their own and brokered a deal with then owner John McCaw and eventually took ownership of the team in 2004. Gaglardi and Beedie sued, saying they were eliminated from a legal partnership. But after the case eventually reached the British Columbia Supreme Court, it was ruled in 2008 that no partnership existed. And finally, the most recent google-worthy story concerning Gaglardi was a controversy with the Blazers, where the team last season banned longtime beat reporter Greg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News so he could not talk to players and management or coaches would not answer his questions. The team was upset with what they perceived to be negative reporting by Drinnan. The ban was quickly rescinded, but it made big news in Canada. Maybe more interesting as far as the Blazers are concerned is the fact the River City group (Gaglardi and the four players) has not been able to restore the team to its past glory. Kamloops missed the playoffs this season and has not advanaced past the first round since the River City group bought the team in 2007. All of that being said, Gaglardi has been diligent in trying to make the lenders happy and seems very excited about helping make the Stars a good team, so we'll see how this plays out. The skeptic in me says that we have to wait all of this out, and this is just one step forward in the process…but it is a step forward.