Gillett, Balsillie deny report that Habs are for sale

TSN.ca Staff with files
11/7/2008 11:33:28 AM
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A report in a Montreal newspaper saying that the Canadiens are for sale was quickly denied by owner George Gillett, Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday.

According to La Presse, Balsillie told the newspaper that the 100-year-old club was for sale.

"The team is not for sale - period," a Canadiens spokesperson told TSN. "End of conversation." When asked by TSN to respond to the report, Balsillie's lawyer Rich Rodier said, "absolutely not, it couldn't be farther from the truth, there is nothing to it - zero."

Gillett, who bought 80 percent of the club and the Bell Centre for US$185 million in 2001, says his office does get inquiries from time to time but since the team is not for sale, there have been no negotiations. The American businessman, who made his fortune with sports properties, ski resorts and meat production, also co-owns English Premier League team Liverpool FC and the NASCAR team Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

"Never, ever, whether in the past or now, have we considered selling or maintained in discussions about selling the team," Gillett told La Presse. "In this centennial year, as we prepare to introduce the All-Star Game and we have the best supporters in the world and an extraordinary team, I do not know why anyone would invent such a story." 

Balsillie has been pursuing an NHL franchise for some time, coming up empty in plans to acquire the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. Balsillie's $220 million offer for the Predators fell through in 2007 after he started taking season ticket deposits in Hamilton. Balsillie also made a bid to purchase the Penguins in 2006, but withdrew it after receiving notice from the NHL that the league would restrict his control over the team.

Last month, Balsillie was set to make a move on William (Boots) Del Biaggio's minority share in the Predators. In June, Del Biaggio was denied in his attempt to sell Balsillie his 27 per cent stake in the Predators in order to liquidate some of his assets. Del Biaggio was accused of loan fraud and filed for personal Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

The Canadiens were recently ranked by Forbes magazine as the NHL's third most valuable franchise at US$334 million, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs ($448 million) and New York Rangers ($411 million).

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