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Billionaire Michael Andlauer is an early favourite to buy the Ottawa Senators, but he isn't the only suitor in the running. Other potential buyers include Roger Greenberg and Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds.Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Transport billionaire Michael Andlauer is the early favourite to be the next owner of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, as the former beer-league goalie goes up against some of Canada’s wealthiest entrepreneurs in a battle for membership in hockey’s most exclusive club.

After late club owner Eugene Melnyk’s two daughters formally put the Senator franchise up for sale last week, a number of potential bidders stepped up work on offers worth US$655-million or more by lining up bankers and legal advisers.

Mr. Andlauer has emerged as the front-runner because of his proven relationship with National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman and team owners as a minority partner in the Montreal Canadiens, according to two sources working for rival buyers. The Globe and Mail is not identifying these sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the sale.

The founder and chief executive of Andlauer Healthcare Group Inc. will face off with a number of billionaires who want control of an NHL team. They’re also keen to make money on real estate by potentially moving the Senators from their current suburban home to a new arena in downtown Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats, site of a 29-hectare redevelopment project.

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In the past, Power Corp. deputy chair André Desmarais and Ottawa-based real estate developer Roger Greenberg – chair of Minto Group – have shown an interest in owning the Senators or partnering with the team. Mr. Melnyk’s family has stipulated that any buyer must keep it in Ottawa.

There are also consortiums contemplating bids that include GFL Environmental Inc. founder and CEO Patrick Dovigi, a former professional hockey goalie, and the Toronto-based Kimel family, who are also property developers.

Besides the billionaire suitors, Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds wants to get into the game. Mr. Reynolds, who spent part of his childhood in Ottawa, said Monday in a Tonight Show interview with Jimmy Fallon that he wants to be the face of a consortium that buys the team, “a fancy way of saying I need a sugar mommy or a sugar daddy.”

Sports experts say Mr. Andlauer’s ties to the NHL give him an edge in the auction for the Senators, as league officials and rival owners are increasingly concerned with reputational risks that come with ownership.

“The NHL’s governors have heightened sensitivity around the suitability of a new owner, as they watch what the NFL is going through with Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders,” said Rick Burton, a professor in sport management at Syracuse University and co-author of the recently published book Business the NHL Way.

Last year, the National Football League fined Mr. Snyder US$10-million after an investigation into a culture of sexual harassment at the team. Other owners subsequently called for Mr. Snyder to sell the team, an option he is currently reviewing.

A native of Montreal, Mr. Andlauer spent three decades building a company that dominates logistics for the pharmaceutical and health care industries and delivered COVID-19 vaccines across Canada. The 57-year-old’s stake in the company, based in Vaughan, Ont., is worth $1.1-billion, according to a regulatory filing. On Tuesday, Mr. Andlauer declined to comment on the Senators through a company spokesperson.

Mr. Andlauer is a lifelong hockey fan who acquired the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs in 2002 when the Canadiens’ minor-league affiliate was struggling financially. The Bulldogs subsequently won a championship.

In 2009, Mr. Andlauer joined a consortium led by the Molson family and acquired the NHL’s Canadiens for US$575-million. He serves as one of the team’s three “alternate governors” on the league’s board.

Mr. Andlauer is already making plans to sell his stake in the Canadiens as part of his bid for the Senators, according to the sources. They also said he is negotiating with property developers as potential partners, recognizing the need for expertise in working with government agencies, including the National Capital Commission, that oversee LeBreton Flats.

In Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto, NHL team owners made significant profits on real estate developments linked to new arenas. However, Mr. Melnyk and the owners of the Calgary Flames failed in repeated attempts to win government support for new facilities.

Whoever acquires the Senators is buying in at a time when hockey’s fortunes are on the upswing. Prof. Burton said the NHL is on course to generate US$6-billion in annual revenues by 2025, up from less than US$1-billion a year when Mr. Bettman arrived in 1993.

Sports business journal Sportico values the small-market Senators at US$655-million, versus an average value on NHL teams of US$1.1-billion. In a competitive auction, Prof. Burton predicted that the Senators could fetch US$800-million or more.

With reports from Tim Kiladze