Any changes the new owner of the Ottawa Senators will make will be through the lens of the fan.
And that includes building a new arena.
With a champagne toast, billionaire Michael Andlauer was officially introduced as the new owner of the Ottawa Senators Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre in front of team employees, Senators alumni (including longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson), other members of team’s new ownership group, and media.
“I think everybody can be sure that the best days of this franchise are to come,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The NHL announced late Thursday the transfer of the club to a group, led by Andlauer, had been unanimously approved by the league’s board of governors. Andlauer took control of the Senators’ operations immediately.
The sale price for the Senators was US$950-million – the highest amount ever paid for an NHL franchise.
Ottawa’s arena is currently located in Kanata, a city suburb about a 25-minute (without traffic) drive from the city’s downtown core. It has often been a sticking point with fans, with little else located nearby.
Andlauer said with a laugh the team may still be playing out of the Canadian Tire Centre in five years due to the pace in which government decisions move. But in the interim, he is committed to investing in the existing building.
The good news, Andlauer explained, is that many of the city’s key stakeholders are committed to moving it to a more central location.
“One of the first goals is on the real estate side,” Andlauer said. “We’ve got the (National Capital Commission) with maybe the best piece of land (LeBreton Flats) in the inner city probably in North America available for development.
“The mayor wants it (moved). The NCC wants it. The fans want it. We’re all pointed in the same direction, it’s a matter of collaborating and seeing what works.”
As one of his first acts as owner, Andlauer announced that Cyril Leeder is returning to the Senators as president and chief executive officer.
Leeder was one of the original founders of the club in the 1990s and was fired by previous owner Eugene Melynk in 2017. Leeder announced Friday that the team’s current chief financial officer Erin Crowe would add chief operating officer to her title.
The club was officially put up for sale on Nov. 7 of last year after Melnyk died on March 28, 2022. Melynk saved the team from bankruptcy in 2003 after purchasing the team – and the arena – for $130-million.
Melynk’s two daughters have retained 10 per cent of the team.
“I’d like to congratulate Michael and the Ottawa Senators on this great news and I’m looking forward to working with him over the coming years on many projects for the residents of Ottawa,” Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe told The Canadian Press in a statement. “I’d also like to offer my thanks to the Melnyk family for their years of dedication to the Ottawa Senators and the city.”
Bettman said the process to sell the Senators – which lasted 321 days – was not unlike any other the league has seen. What was different with Ottawa, he explained, was the untimely death of Melnyk. That prompted Day 1 interest in what was to happen next and resulted in plenty of speculation.
Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds and rapper Snoop Dogg were part of two separate groups that expressed interest in the buying the team at one point.
“The most important element of (the process) was that it came to a great conclusion,” Bettman said. “It was gratifying to see the number of bidders and we had to sort through who was the winner, how they would be a winner, and how they would get the resources to do it. And Michael was the one who came out on top.”
Andlauer is the founder and chief executive officer of Andlauer Heathcare Group and the founder of Toronto-based merchant bank Bulldog Capital Partners. He previously owned 10 per cent of the Montreal Canadiens.
His Senators ownership group includes the Malhotra family, owners of Ottawa real-estate development giant Claridge Homes, Farm Boy grocery store co-CEO Jeff York, and Oshawa Generals president and governor Rocco Tullio. York and Ottawa businessman Ted Wagstaff spearheaded a group of 11 local business leaders that joined the winning bid.
“I’ve got a lot to learn here about the Ottawa-Gatineau area (but I have a) great group of partners. I’m a best-practice guy. I learned a lot in Montreal. For me the first order of the day is to observe and collaborate,” Andlauer said.
Ottawa missed the playoffs last year after a 39-35-8 regular season. But the team, led by captain Brady Tkachuk, will head into 2023-24 with a young core eager for success.
This summer Ottawa signed Stanley Cup-winner Vladimir Tarasenko to a one-year deal as a free agent after trading away 25-year-old winger Alex DeBrincat. The team also locked up 21-year-old defenceman Jake Sanderson with an eight-year, $64.4-million extension this summer.
“To me, the most important thing is what is important for the fans. If I can increase the fan experience – that’s what I’m here for,” Andlauer said. “It is my passion to win a Stanley Cup and I believe I can make a difference.”
The Senators play their first pre-season game Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ottawa’s regular season begins Oct. 11, with its home opener on Oct. 14.