Arduous sale process bound to produce quality ownership for Senators

Ottawa Senators left wing Parker Kelly (45) skates as projections of the team's logo spin on the ice before an NHL game against the Boston Bruins in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

After a year and a couple of months, what’s another week in the pursuit of a new owner for the Ottawa Senators?

The waiting is the hardest part, wrote Tom Petty, author of the original Senators theme song, I won’t back down

In Waiting for Godot, Estragon asks Vladimir – “if he doesn’t come (today)?”

V: “We’ll come back tomorrow.”

E: “And then the day after tomorrow.”

V: “Possibly.”

Possibly, perhaps even probably, the Senators will learn this week who is the preferred bid to own the franchise. After that, assuming that group clears the necessary hurdles and NHL board of governor approval, the Senators can get on with the business of running a hockey team, and planning a new arena, under new ownership.

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Notre Dame football had its Four Horsemen. And the Senators have their four bidders: Steve Apostolopoulos, Mike Andlauer, the Kimel brothers (Michael and Jeff), and the Neko Sparks group. 

It has been entertaining watching fans pick their favourite candidate, despite having never met any of them or knowing what kind of owners they might be once they assume control of the hockey club. 

Much like the buildup to the Kentucky Derby, there were early favourites, changes in the odds board and sentimental picks as we got to know a little bit about the race entrants. 

As with the Derby, sometimes there is a late withdrawal due to injury or unforeseen circumstances. 

The Ryan Reynolds entry, also known as the Remington Group, was the overwhelming favourite in the early weeks, until the actor and Wrexham FC co-owner confirmed that he would not be part of any Senators ownership group. This, after Remington pulled out of the running when it was not granted an exclusive negotiating window with the city and NCC over the arena land issue. 

With Remington gone, the Derby, er, Senators sweepstakes seemed a wide open race, although sentiment quick aligned with Andlauer, the original “frontrunner” to many when this entire process began. 

Andlauer, who has had a minority stake in the Montreal Canadiens since 2009 and operates the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs, was thought to be a natural candidate given that he is a known commodity in NHL circles. 

And yet, the Kimel brothers also had a stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins, before the club was sold to the Fenway Sports Group last year. 

Just as fans swung to Andlauer, wanting a solid candidate after the Reynolds departure, there was a movement on social media liking the youthful look of a Kimel ownership. It didn’t hurt that the Kimels formed a partnership with The Weeknd, with their deep Ottawa connections. 

This came after the Neko Sparks group was currying favour with their bold association with First Nations groups in Canada, giving them a seat at the table as far as equity in the franchise and a stake in the arena development, which could take place on Algonquin lands. 

Oh, but public sentiment shifted dramatically when the Sparks group kept adding investors as the process groaned on toward some kind of conclusion. Over the weekend, Neko Sparks responded on Twitter to some of those who questioned whether or not he had the financing required to own and operate the franchise. 

On Saturday, Sparks took a step back from the exchanges. 

“Everyone is entitled to their opinions, regardless of how inaccurate they are … I love Ottawa, the team, and deeply believe everything we stand for: inclusiveness & the Stanley Cup. I apologize for responding to the personal attacks leveled at me,” Sparks tweeted.

More quietly, the other three bids carry on behind the scenes, fine tuning pitches to the Galatioto Sports Group, which is receiving the bids on behalf of Melnyk’s daughters, Anna and Olivia. 

To all of the above, we imagine Apostolopoulos giving a kind of ‘hold my beer’ approach, with what is said to be the cleanest bid of all, involving the fewest partners. The son of Greek-Canadian billionaire Andreas Apostolopoulos, Steve A. recently submitted a $6-billion bid to buy the NFL’s Washington Commanders. Though that bid wasn’t successful, a pitch of $1 billion or so to buy an NHL team in Ottawa has to feel like a relative walk in the park for the Toronto native. 

Here’s the thing. Each of these groups would bring a different energy to the organization, even if we don’t know them well enough yet to assess how different they might be from each other. 

This process of attracting quality business people willing to spend 10 figures on an NHL franchise, to the delight of commissioner Gary Bettman and the league owners, is such a contrast to the process when this small market Ottawa team last went up for sale in 2003. 

Eugene Melnyk, whose early hockey dream was to buy the hometown Maple Leafs, not the provincial rival Senators, stepped forward when others wouldn’t. At his introductory press conference, Melnyk told us he bought the club because he didn’t like the idea of Canada losing another team, so soon after the Nordiques left Quebec for Colorado in 1995. 

Melnyk couldn’t have imagined that his little franchise would rise in value to these current heights. 

His daughters, likely to retain a minority stake, and all of the Nation’s Capital, stand to reap the benefits from this process. 

Once the waiting is over. Tomorrow. Or the day after. 


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