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Ducks owners are losing less money, plan to keep franchise in the family

Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli said they have pared their annual losses to "less double-digit millions" thanks to increased revenues and revenue-sharing provisions opened to them in the latest collective bargaining agreement, and they affirmed their commitment to maintaining family ownership of the franchise.

Speaking on the eve of the Ducks' season opener at San Jose on Saturday — the club's 23rd NHL season and the couple's 11th as owners — they said they were "devastated" by the team's loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals last spring but are optimistic the Ducks will be highly competitive while operating on a budget set at about $7 million below the NHL's $71.4-million cap. Their budget reflects the team's place in the lower half of revenue rankings among the NHL's 30 teams.

Profitability, Henry Samueli said Friday, "is something to dream about. I think it's not impossible for that to occur. As long as we can continue this steady climb it's definitely possible and it's certainly a goal, at least to get to break-even. A grand goal. If we get to break-even we're all drinking champagne."

Under the labor agreement that took effect for the 2012-13 season, the Ducks for the first time were allowed to participate in the league's revenue-sharing program. They had been excluded on the basis they were in a large media market. They get a 50% share of what the calculations would otherwise dictate.

That factor, combined with increased local TV rights fees, has helped keep the numbers palatable.

"We're still losing money, but it's getting better and we're on a good path and we feel good about it," Henry Samueli said. "Fortunately my other businesses are doing well. Broadcom has done incredibly well. So we can sustain the negative cash flow…. Given that the value of the franchise increases faster than your negative cash flow, if you can sustain it, it's a wonderful thing to keep. So we have absolutely no intentions of selling the team. We love it."

Henry Samueli, co-founder of the semiconductor company Broadcom, and his wife, Susan, who's active in the family's many philanthropic efforts, purchased the management contract for Anaheim's Honda Center in 2003 and purchased the Ducks from the Walt Disney Co. in 2005 for $75 million. Forbes valued the franchise at $365 million in 2014.

The Samuelis spent about $100 million on improvements to the city-owned building, including a new, $10-million scoreboard. They also purchased the minor league Norfolk (Va.) American Hockey League franchise, moved it to San Diego, and renamed it the Gulls. One of their daughters, Jillian, is a Gulls employee. "She's a passionate hockey person. I think she'll make that a career, for sure," said Henry Samueli, 61.

The Samuelis invested in new locker rooms and dasher boards at the Valley View Casino Center, and arena manager AEG funded other renovations. The Samuelis are developing a new practice facility for the Gulls in Poway and plan to build a new practice facility for the Ducks and for community use in Irvine.

"Our Learn to Play program is so successful they're running out of ice time at every rink," Susan Samueli said. "So it's really important that we get another rink out there."

Both endorsed General Manager Bob Murray and his ability to assemble a team that last season had the best record in the West.

"Every year we've been improving, first round, second round, third round. Knock on wood, we'll keep improving again," Henry Samueli said of the last three playoff exits. "I feel good going into this season that this is a very strong team and has a chance to go deep into the playoffs."

Susan Samueli praised players' good chemistry. "Bob has done an unbelievable job pulling this team together," she said.

Henry Samueli also said the prospect of bringing an NBA team to Honda Center as a tenant, in the past considered a possibility, "is pretty much dead." He added, "As far as I can tell there's nothing going to happen in the short- to mid-term. Who knows what happens in the long term?"

Despres extension

Defenseman Simon Despres, who was acquired from Pittsburgh in March to be a depth player but earned a prominent role, signed a five-year, $18.5-million contract extension through the 2020-21 season. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound native of Laval, Canada, had one goal, six points and a plus-two defensive rating in 16 regular-season games with the Ducks, and a goal, seven points and a plus-four rating in 16 playoff games. He averaged 18 minutes 40 seconds' ice time with the Ducks during the regular season and 20:46 during the playoffs.

Despres, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson are 24 or younger and figure to be cornerstones on defense for years.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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