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Andlauer to become new Senators owner

Ottawa Senators celebrate Ottawa Senators celebrate - The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The sale of the Ottawa Senators is coming to a close.

A group led by Toronto-based businessman Michael Andlauer has reached an agreement in principle to purchase the NHL team, the Senators announced Tuesday.

Terms of the deal weren't released, but reports from Sportico and Postmedia value the deal at close to US$1 billion.

The sale still needs to be approved by the NHL's board of governors.

Andlauer is the sole owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs and a minority owner of the Montreal Canadiens.

The 57-year-old is also the founder and chief executive officer of Andlauer Healthcare Group, which owns health-care supply chain companies. He's also the founder of Toronto-based merchant bank Bulldog Capital Partners.

"I believe that the Senators' fanbase is one of the most passionate in the league," Andlauer said in a statement. "I'm excited to take the franchise's success both on and off the ice to the next level.

"The short- and long-term future of the team is incredibly bright, and I look forward to getting to know the team, the fanbase and the community."

The board of directors of Senators Sports & Entertainment initiated the process to sell the club in November after the death of owner Eugene Melnyk.

His adult daughters, Anna and Olivia, will retain a 10 per cent stake in the club.

"(Andlauer) represents everything we could have hoped to find coming into this process — a passionate owner who is committed to Ottawa," said Senators chairman and governor Sheldon Plener.

A recent valuation by Forbes listed the team's value at $800 million, 24th out of the NHL's 30 teams.

The franchise garnered plenty of suitors, including competing bids that reportedly included Canadian movie star Ryan Reynolds, Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, and rapper Snoop Dogg.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month the sale was close to being completed at what he expected to be around a billion dollars — "give or take."

"I've always felt that we've been undervalued, so this, to me, is just an affirmation that our franchises are more valuable than Forbes or Sportico or many investment bankers have said," Bettman stated June 3 in Las Vegas before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. "Our competitive balance is extraordinary, and that should somehow be equating to higher values.

"I think you're beginning to see that."

Bettman has repeatedly said a condition of the sale was that the team remain in Ottawa.

Melnyk died of an undisclosed illness in March 2022 at age 62.

The billionaire from Toronto purchased the Senators out of bankruptcy in 2003 for $92 million at a time when the club faced a tenuous future in the nation's capital.

The day-to-day running of the team, which is eyeing a new downtown arena to replace the suburban Canadian Tire Centre, has been handled by its board of directors since Melnyk's death.

The Senators made the Cup final in 2007 when Ottawa lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks, but things started to sour roughly a decade later.

Melnyk, who had an adversarial relationship with a large chunk of the fanbase in the years before his death, said before a 2017 outdoor game in Ottawa he might move the team if attendance didn't increase, sparking a "#MelnykOut" campaign on billboards and social media.

The Senators haven't qualified for the playoffs since making it to double overtime of Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference final, but have a promising young core of talent led by Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Thomas Chabot.

Corporate infighting and lawsuits between Melnyk and a developer over building a new downtown arena — the team has played in Ottawa's far west end since 1996 — on the Lebreton Flats site just west of Parliament Hill ultimately torpedoed that deal in 2019.