The decision by the National Hockey League board of governors not to permit the move of the St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, leaves the Blues' ownership in limbo.
Ralston Purina Company, which bought the team in 1977, had sold it to Coliseum Holdings Ltd., a Saskatoon-based group, about three weeks ago, pending league approval.
Ralston Purina had announced the club was for sale earlier this year, citing loss of revenue as the reason for getting out of the hockey business.
However, the transfer of any NHL franchise requires the approval of a three-quarters majority of the governors and, on Wednesday evening, a 15-3 vote barred the move.
John Baird, chairman of the board of the Blues and a senior vice president at Ralston Purina, said yesterday he was disappointed, but could not say what the company would do at this time.
John Ziegler, NHL president, said as far as the league is concerned, the Blues are still based in St. Louis and owned by Ralston Purina.
"Our position is that Ralston Purina is a viable company and not in desperate straits, and under the league agreement, it has promised to operate a team," he said.
"Until they officially tell us they are not going to live up to that agreement, they're entitled to be treated as a member in good standing of the league."
St. Louis, one of the league's original expansion franchises, had averaged better than 85 percent capacity attendance.
Of the league's 14 U.S.-based teams, the Blues' attendance figures ranked fifth.
Support for the team was not the problem.
Losses totaled about $1.7 million a year and Ralston Purina agreed to sell the Blues for a reported $11.5 million to the Canadian group headed by businessman Bill Hunter.
Hunter and his group made a lengthy presentation to the board of governors this week, but the NHL board denied the move's approval for several reasons.
Saskatoon's size and location were cited, as were the lack of a building for the team, financial complications involving lien rights of the Saskatechewan government and public ownership. The support of St. Louis fans was also a factor, Ziegler said.
St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl had put together a St. Louis-based group to keep the team in town, but that group has been unable to raise enough money to counter Hunter's offer.
Schoemehl told Associated Press the transfer's denial "may present an opportunity for Ralston Purina and St. Louis to . . . spread the responsibility of keeping the team" among corporations and citizens.
However, the situation is not resolved yet. Although Ziegler said further meetings of the board had been scheduled on the subject at this time, "it isn't over yet. We will be hearing about this for awhile."