Selling the Ottawa Senators generated more drama than an episode of Netflix’s “Selling Sunset.”
For months the Senators’ saga played out like a reality series cliché: billionaire bidding wars, high-stakes negotiations, celebrity cameos and, in the end, one clear winner.
In Ottawa’s case, it was transportation tycoon Michael Andlauer — heading a group of additional investors — who emerged victorious, offering a reported $950 million earlier this month to successfully sign a purchase agreement for the Senators. That deal remains subject to NHL approval.
Andlauer, 58, had been involved with the sale process in Ottawa from its start last November. The Canadian businessman is a self-made billionaire with long-term, winding roots in the hockey community. Born in France but raised in Montreal, Andlauer grew up loving the Canadiens, a passion that would set the table for future investments.
In 2003, Andlauer became a part owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs — Montreal’s then-American Hockey League affiliate — and in 2004 purchased a majority stake in the club. By 2009, Andlauer had graduated to the big leagues by buying a minority share of the Canadiens as part of a collective helmed by Geoff Molson (if Andlauer’s bid for the Senators gets over the line, he will have to divest all interests in the Habs moving forward).
Andlauer wasn’t the only candidate eagerly pursuing Ottawa, either. Sources confirmed to ESPN that Andlauer’s was one of four final bids for the Senators at the agreed-upon May 15 deadline. The other pitches came from California-based businessman Neko Sparks (who was supported in part by musical recording star Snoop Dogg), entrepreneurs Jeffrey and Michael Kimel, and billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos. Canadian real estate corporation The Remington Group — backed in part by actor Ryan Reynolds — had also been in the mix much of the way before bowing out in early May.
Now, some seven months after the Senators’ “For Sale” sign went up, there is pending stability for the franchise — at least when it comes to ownership. Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe tweeted Tuesday that it was “great to meet” with Andlauer and that they had a “great conversation about the future of Ottawa and the Senators.”
Once Andlauer is, as expected, anointed into his new role, there are plenty of questions to be answered about the team’s present and future that will set it up for a kind of success that Ottawa has been lacking — but that former owner Eugene Melnyk had always envisioned for his beloved Senators.
How the Senators came up for sale
Melnyk was a standout businessman in his own right.
His passion, though — as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman often stated — was tied up in Ottawa.
Melnyk purchased the Senators in 2003 for $130 million and fronted the organization until his passing on March 28, 2022, after a long illness. Under Melnyk, the Senators made one Stanley Cup Final appearance, in 2007, and again reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2017. Ottawa also weathered its share of lean seasons in between and after those highlights; the Senators haven’t been back to the postseason since that run to the conference finals six seasons ago.
After Melnyk’s death, the franchise passed to his daughters, Anna and Olivia. They, along with the Senators Sports and Entertainment board of directors, made the “necessary and prudent step” to place Ottawa on the market in November, with an included caveat that anyone attempting to purchase the Senators would not be able to move the team away from Ottawa. Seeing the Senators stay put in Canada’s capital was important to Melnyk and to Bettman.
Despite Ottawa’s standing as a lower-revenue club by league standards, there was never any desire on Melnyk’s part to see his franchise go to another town. That portion of his legacy will be protected now under Andlauer’s leadership.
If the Senators are to remain in Ottawa, it won’t be without some projected changes — on and off the ice. Andlauer and his investors will have to wait to get started, but once they have approval to move ahead, their schedule should be jam-packed giving Ottawa the makeover it has long needed by answering some hard-hitting questions about the franchise’s next steps.
Where will the Senators play?
When Melnyk bought the Senators in 2003, his transaction included taking control of the team’s arena in Kanata, Ontario, a suburb about 30 minutes outside of Ottawa. The Senators had been housed in the arena now named Canadian Tire Centre since it opened in 1996. That location became increasingly at odds with the Senators’ ability to fill their rink for every home game. During his ownership tenure, Melnyk tried to build Ottawa a new home closer to the city’s downtown in the hopes it would not only be a strong business investment but also give the Senators a greater spotlight (and produce higher profits).
When the National Capital Commission began requesting proposals in 2015 to redevelop the downtown LeBreton Flats, Melnyk quickly got involved. By 2016, Melynk and the RendezVous LeBreton Group partnership (with Trinity Development Group) pitched the NCC on a project that included not only the site of a new arena but also housing, parking and recreation facilities to benefit the entire community. Their plan ultimately came apart in 2018 when dueling lawsuits between Trinity and Melynk’s camp put development plans on hold, and the NCC’s subsequent attempt to put the sides through mediation to work out their differences failed.
The NCC again asked for bids in 2022 on the LeBreton Flats space. The Senators went back to the well with another pitch, and in June 2022 the NCC announced that Ottawa’s proposal had been selected for the site; a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Senators-led Capital Sports Development Inc. at the time, and a lease agreement was expected to be produced by fall of this year.
That, of course, all took place before Andlauer took over. Capital Sports has continued working with NCC on the LeBreton redesign, but it will fall to Andlauer how — or if — he wants to proceed with what the group had originally proposed for the LeBreton land.
The NCC has yet to confirm that it has spoken with Andlauer about his plans — that conversation is likely pending NHL approval of his purchase anyway — but in a statement, the NCC declared, “we look forward to working with Mr. Andlauer and his partners on a lease agreement for a future major events centre at LeBreton Flats.”
Time will tell whether Andlauer & Co. like what they hear or whether their ears are bent elsewhere.
Will Andlauer overhaul Ottawa’s front office and coaching staff?
There’s no timeline on when, exactly, the Senators’ sale will (or won’t) be finalized. It might not be until September. What we do know is that Andlauer and his group will have nothing to do with Ottawa’s business at the NHL draft in Nashville next week, or when free agency opens July 1.
Let’s fast-forward. We’ll continue to assume that Andlauer’s business is handled without a hitch and his deal is formally accepted. When the ink is eventually dry, what will Andlauer make of the Senators’ front office and coaching personnel?
Pierre Dorion was hired as general manager by Melnyk in 2016; he is signed through the 2024-25 season, with an option for the club to extend him one additional year. Dorion, in turn, hired coach D.J. Smith in 2019; he’s signed until the end of this coming season, and Ottawa has the option to extend him through 2024-25.
The Senators have reached the postseason only once under Dorion (on that run to the Eastern Conference finals) and haven’t been at all since Smith stepped behind the bench. Will the lack of success by his GM-coach combination spur Andlauer to hire replacements?
Andlauer has ties to Steve Staios, who was president and general manager of the Bulldogs when Andlauer owned that team, and they won two Ontario Hockey League championships together. Staois is currently employed in hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers, but he might easily be wooed to Ottawa if Andlauer made room for him as GM.
If Andlauer opted for a change in that position, it would likely fall on the incoming executive to decide Smith’s fate behind the bench. Again, given the uncertain timeline for the sale to get pushed through and Smith’s limited time remaining under contract, there could even be a mutual parting of the ways in the coming months.
Another situation to monitor involves Senators legend Daniel Alfredsson. The club’s former captain suited up for Ottawa from 1994 to 2013 and, after his retirement, was briefly a senior adviser for the Sens from 2015 to 2017. Alfredsson has recently stated his desire to hold a “meaningful role” in Senators hockey ops again under the team’s new management. Andlauer reportedly met with Alfredsson earlier this week, too.
Will the Sens’ prospective new owner take Alfredsson up on his desire for an expanded position with the club?
How will the Senators’ new ownership affect players?
Ottawa hasn’t seen the playoffs in six years, but the Senators are closer than ever to returning.
Ottawa has drafted well in recent years, bringing captain Brady Tkachuk, forwards Tim Stutzle and Drake Batherson, and defensemen Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson — among others — into the fold. That group is poised to carry the Senators back into contention. In fact, Ottawa might have surged into a playoff spot last season if injury troubles — including losing top forward Josh Norris for most of the season — hadn’t piled up.
That’s all in the past. Andlauer will be focused on assessing the Sens’ next chapter.
Naturally, any management and coaching decisions will impact what Ottawa does with its roster. The Senators do have some key choices to make before the 2023-24 campaign kicks off, though.
Dorion swung for the fences bringing in forward Alex DeBrincat via trade last summer; the pending restricted free agent isn’t expected to re-sign long term in Ottawa, and attempting to broker a deal that benefits the Senators in some way has to be a priority. Then there’s the team’s goaltending. Cam Talbot is headed to unrestricted free agency. Anton Forsberg ended last season on injured reserve but was playing well beforehand. Can Forsberg be anointed the Sens’ next starter? Or will they look elsewhere for help on that front?
In the bigger picture, what will Ottawa’s identity be? Andlauer has experience in the hockey world and will no doubt arrive with opinions on team structure. Those thoughts will clearly have an effect on whom he wants to populate those personnel roles; his vision for the team must match that of whoever is in charge of setting the team up for on-ice success.
All we can do at this stage is speculate on how many alterations Andlauer will see fit to make and how quickly he’ll want to make them. However, given that Andlauer has been a minority owner in the league for years — with another Atlantic Division club, no less — he’s going to be intimately familiar with where Ottawa has failed and thrived during its six-season postseason drought. That potentially cuts down on how long it will take Andlauer to put the wheels of change in motion for Ottawa that directly affect how the Senators look on the ice in the years to come.
What’s next for the Senators after sale to Michael Andlauer?