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Molson brothers ponder return to Habs ownership Add to ...

A young face with a very old link to the Montreal Canadiens is the latest to step forward as a potential bidder for the 100-year-old NHL franchise.

Geoffrey E. Molson, the 38-year-old scion of the well-heeled brewing clan is considering leading a bid to purchase the Canadiens from current majority owner George Gillett Jr.

According to a spokesman, Molson and his brothers, Andrew and Justin, are mulling the possibility of putting in an offer for the team.

"Hockey is in their blood," Luc Beauregard said. "As much as the Molson name is synonymous with beer, it's also synonymous with the Canadiens."

The family's involvement with the Habs dates back to the 1950s, when brothers Hartland and Thomas Molson - Geoffrey's grandfather - bought the team. It won 11 of its 24 Stanley Cups under their aegis.

Beauregard stressed that Molson's interest does not automatically suppose he will make a formal offer, and any bid would not be connected with the Molson Coors Brewing Co., which holds a 19.9-per-cent stake in the team (Gillett controls the other 80.1 per cent). Geoffrey Molson is a director of the conglomerate and its representative to the Canadiens board of governors.

The announcement was spurred by corporate governance concerns, but Beauregard insisted Molson's interest is serious.

Gillett bought the team and its arena in 2001 for $180-million (U.S.) and, earlier this year, retained BMO Nesbitt Burns investment banking arm to solicit offers for his Canadian properties, which include the Habs, the Bell Centre and a concert promotion company.

Though Gillett is understood to be reticent to sell the team and has not yet confirmed publicly he will do so, there is a growing sense the offers may be hard to resist from local bidders, including billionaire cable magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau (leading a consortium involving singer Céline Dion, the deep-pocketed Saputo cheese maker family and Claridge Investments Inc. head Stephen Bronfman) and former Habs great Serge Savard (who is reportedly backed by telecom giant BCE and Quebec's largest union pension fund).

There is also reported to be at least two United States-based bidders.

Documents leaked to the Quebec press pegged the Canadiens' annual revenues at about $288-million, and the Gillett Entertainment Group's revenues at $100-million (the company owns and operates the Bell Centre).

The deadline for offers is set for next month, but a source within a competing bid said the process will drag on for some time yet. Even if a tentative deal is announced in June or July, a sale won't likely close until fall because "there's going to be a lengthy due diligence period, the NHL is pretty insistent on that."

The source poured water on the speculation in Quebec media circles that Gillett, 70, is soliciting offers to make his case for more loans from his bankers, saying "there are liquidity issues" in Gillett's businesses and the current financing climate would preclude that sort of strategy.

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