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Montreal Canadiens' newly appointed head coach Jacques Martin, left, shakes hands with general manager Bob Gainey following a news conference in Montreal, June 1, 2009. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI)
Montreal Canadiens' newly appointed head coach Jacques Martin, left, shakes hands with general manager Bob Gainey following a news conference in Montreal, June 1, 2009. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI)

Habs suitor wanted input on Martin hiring Add to ...

In hiring new head coach Jacques Martin this week, Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said he has unfettered authority to make decisions in the hockey department.

But that's news to one of the Habs' prospective new owners.

Media tycoon Pierre Karl Péladeau, who is fronting one of three local consortiums bidding for the historic NHL team (it's believed there are three other groups from outside Quebec vying for ownership as well), said yesterday he would have preferred to have input on the decision.

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"Maybe this could have waited a couple of weeks so we could, of a common accord, make the decision," the chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc. told the Le Quotidien newspaper at a business luncheon in Saguenay, Que. "I have to admit I found it odd that a coach would be named Monday. I think [current Habs owner]George Gillett is going to sell his team."

At the same time, Péladeau praised Martin's qualifications, saying "according to everything I've heard in the last few days, he seems to be a highly talented coach."

Gillett, a Colorado-based ski resort owner who owns 80.1 per cent of the Canadiens, hired the BMO Nesbitt Burns investment bank earlier this year to drum up offers for his Canadian properties, which include a concert promotion company and the Bell Centre arena in Montreal.

According to sources involved with the bidding process, the deadline for offers is set for mid-June. It is believed an agreement in principle could be announced before the NHL entry draft on June 26 (which is to be held in Montreal), although the same sources say it's doubtful a sale could be finalized before the fall.

And Péladeau's surprise notwithstanding, Gainey has met with several of the would-be owners (although if Canadiens legend Serge Savard's bid were to be successful, he would likely seek to appoint a new GM).

It has been widely speculated that Savard's bid is backed by telecom giant BCE Inc. - which is locked in fierce competition with Quebecor-owned Vidéotron Ltée - although it now appears such talk may be premature.

According to sources, BCE has been sought out by several bidders, but has not committed to any one group. There is a mounting belief in Quebec business circles that the company could throw its lot in with a potential bid from the Molson brewing clan, which sold its shares in the Habs to Gillett in 2001, leaving Molson Coors Brewing Co. with 19.9 per cent of the team.

Sources say there are concerns within the Vidéotron-led consortium - which is said to include singer Céline Dion, members of the Saputo family (dairy products) and Claridge Investments Inc. head Stephen Bronfman - over Péladeau as eventual managing partner.

That in turn has led to a reluctance to stake a lot of money behind the bid.

Vidéotron has about $1-billion in existing credit facilities, but a purchase of the Habs - likely to be in the neighbourhood of $500-million when the team's $265-million debt is factored in - would represent a big bite for a company that's about to launch an ambitious wireless media strategy.



Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

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