The Ottawa Senators have seen a lot of turnover in the past few years.
The team has rid itself of nearly every member of the 2017 Senators that went to the conference finals in 2017, losing on a Game 7 overtime goal to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, the Senators have amassed much of its lineup either through trade, signing or draft – but the biggest move is yet to come as the team prepares for its sale and possible relocation to a new downtown stadium.
“Change of ownership would mean everything to this city,” says Jamal Choudhry, owner of Senators fan page @sensbuzz_ on Instagram and a very vocal Sens loyalist. He says new ownership would be “invaluable” in restoring strained relationships with local businesses and long-time fans.
Over the past few weeks, several potential owners have put in preliminary bids to purchase the now up-and-coming franchise. Now, the list has been shortened to six.
‘Change of ownership would mean everything to this city.’— Jamal Choudhry, owner, Senators fan page @sensbuzz_ on Instagram
On Monday, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman met with Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum. The March 27 meetings were largely meant to reassure the civic leaders and Ottawa fans that the NHL has no plans to move the team out of the capital, with Bettman telling reporters: “If the team is going to move, the only move that will be permitted is downtown.”
Bettman said the team’s sale could take months to finalize, and he didn’t offer any hints about a frontrunner among the bidders.
The Remington group investors are the fan favourites for ownership, as they’ve partnered with Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, star of the Deadpool film franchise.
Reynolds, who grew up in Ottawa, has in recent years been amassing a personal fortune, selling a gin brand for more than $600 million in 2020 and, earlier this month, phone service provider Mint Mobile, personally netting a reported $300 million.
For Choudhry, it’s not just the movie magic that draws him to favour Reynolds; it’s the actor’s work running Welsh soccer club Wrexham AFC.
“If the team is going to move, the only move that will be permitted is downtown.”— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Alongside fellow actor Rob McElhinney, Reynolds purchased the club in 2020 for $2.76 million.
Despite the club’s position as a semi-professional club, far from powerhouse teams Arsenal and Chelsea, Wrexham has since garnered international popularity due to the celebrity ownership duo. That popularity has only surged with the team’s recent on-field success and the FX television series produced by the owner-actors called Welcome to Wrexham.
It’s believed that if the Remington group gains ownership of the team, Reynolds would produce a similar series about the Ottawa and the Senators, which could catapult the team to global stardom, as Reynolds did with Wrexham.
“You look at what Reynolds has done with Wrexham . . . their most prominent sponsors are Expedia and TikTok,” said Choudhry. “Combine that with the Remington group’s equity, and finally having wealthy ownership will put the idea that the Senators could ever potentially relocate to sleep.”
Another intriguing bidder is the Sparks group. Fronted by the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Neko Sparks, the consortium features up to 15 investors, 75 per cent of whom are Black. If successful, this would make the Senators the first NHL club owned by a majority black ownership group.
Panos Mavridis, owner of PuckEmpire hockey news source, said he’s intrigued by the group and the importance of having diverse voices in the sport’s upper ranks. “We’ve seen it happening slowly in the NHL,” he said. “We saw with Mike Greir, general manager of the San Jose Sharks, first black GM. It’s good to see (diversity) happening now in the sport.”
While an outside figure in the hockey realm, Sparks has rented out a billboard just outside the Canadian Tire Centre making his interest known to all fans attending games.
The majority of his consortium remains a mystery, although there are rumors of a big name from the music industry being involved. Others connected to Sparks include former New Jersey Devils marketing executive Daniel Cherry and former NHL defensemen Mattias Norstrom and Trevor Daley.
Furthermore, the sheer size of the Sparks group could mean that they are among the highest bidders for the team.
While unfamiliar with the prospects of owning a team, another potential Sens’ owner — Toronto-based publisher and venture capitalist Graeme Roustan — is a very familiar figure in the hockey world. He runs Roustan Media, which owns The Hockey News. And Roustan served as a governor of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
While much about the Roustan-led bid is unclear, it’s believed that he’s partnered with local Indigenous investors.
Michael Andlauer is a Toronto-based shipping executive who’s also angling to become the Senators’ new owner. Andlauer has more than toyed around with sports investing, being a former owner of the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs and current part-owner of the Montreal Canadiens.
Among Andlauer’s group is Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York – whose brother Jason was a Sens’ defenseman for five seasons in the late 1990s – and real estate moguls the Paletta brothers.
Meanwhile, Rocco Tullio, owner of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, is another potential buyer of Ottawa’s NHL team.
While his threats to move the storied Generals franchise in 2020 to Ajax may strike a nerve with Senators fans who faced threats of relocation in 2003 and 2017, Bettman has repeatedly — and as recently as Monday — reassured Ottawa that the team will stay put.
It was Melnyk’s death one year ago this week — on March 28, 2022 — that put the Senators on the auction block.
Despite the $650-million valuation, the team’s sale price could soar above the $900-million mark, surpassing the record-setting amount paid in recent years for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators. This jump in market value is likely due to several recent additions to the lineup — including veteran NHL star and Ottawa-area native Claude Giroux — and the renewed interest in the club’s expected move to LeBreton Flats.
Another familiar name in the contest to own the club is Harlo Capital. Headed by billionaire Toronto brothers Jeffrey and Michael Kimel, the group has tried in the past to involve themselves with the Sens, working with Melnyk to facilitate the purchase and development of Lebreton Flats as a new home for the club. The group is also familiar with NHL ownership, having previously been minority owners of the Penguins before selling those shares in 2021.
An arena at LeBreton Flats could be the difference-maker for fans in Gatineau, Orléans and South Keys, who face long commute times to attend games in west-end Kanata and have historically not been avid ticket buyers.