GARRIOCH: The Ottawa Senators have attracted a ton of interest from interested buyers

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LAS VEGAS — The Ottawa Senators are a hot commodity on the retail market.

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In fact, they’re sizzling.

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NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wasn’t kidding when he told this newspaper 10 days ago “there has been a fair bit of interest” from groups studying a purchase of the Senators.

League sources told this newspaper Wednesday more than 20 groups have reached out to New York-based sports banker Galatioti Sports Partners (GSP) or the NHL’s head office to express an interest in taking a closer looking at buying the Senators.

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“The real estate component makes it an attractive option,” a league source said. “If this was just a team in Kanata I don’t think there’d be this much interest.”

That means there’s going to be a bidding war for the franchise when it formally goes up for sale. At this point, Galatioti is trying to get all the financial information it needs for a due diligence website it hopes will be able to go live Dec. 1 and will be open for a month.

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League executives say they’d like to have an idea who is the frontrunner to buy the franchise by mid-January. That could make the next weeks interesting and right now the interested parties are signing non-disclosure agreements to get access at the books.

The amount of interest in the Senators is in stark contrast to the number of bidders there were when the late Eugene Melnyk bought the team and the Canadian Tire Centre out of bankruptcy for $130 million (all figures U.S.) in 2003.

At that time, Melnyk was the only interested party that contacted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and was willing to keep the team in Ottawa. Snapple billionaire Nelson Peltz also expressed interest at that time but wanted to move it to the United States.

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The level of interest in the Senators could drive the asking price to anywhere between $800 million-to-$1 billion when the dust settles. That would be an astronomical figure when you consider a Los Angeles-based magazine valued the franchise at $650 million.

League sources say the Melnyk’s daughters, Anna and Olivia, along with the club’s board of directors have been thrilled with the amount groups that have reached out to GSP.

All those interested know, the Melnyk family will not sell to anybody who wants to relocate the Senators. Sources say the NHL’s requirement is that the new owners will have to complete a lease agreement with the National Capital Commission to build a new rink at LeBreton Flats.

“Everybody knows what the rules of the game are, which is this team is staying in Ottawa and you’re looking to purchase this team and operating in Ottawa,” Daly said following the GM’s meetings in Toronto Nov. 15th.

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The lease deal must be in place by Sept, 2023 so the clock is ticking on the sale.

As this newspaper reported first Saturday, Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds is stepping up his efforts to be part of a group that wants to purchase the franchise. He’s speaking with investors interested in buying the club and is trying to find the right fit.

But Reynolds wants to be involved because he views it as a tremendous opportunity to help market the game and be part of something that has a chance to be special.

“He’s all in with this. He’s excited and he wants to be part of this,” a league source said.

It’s believed Reynolds has met with representatives for several of the interested parties, including Toronto real estate developers Jeffrey and Michael Kimel.

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They’re bullish on this project and sources say they’re trying to put together a strong group to buy the team and make the dream of building a downtown rink. Before Melnyk passed away, they reached out to him in December and wanted to partner with him on LeBreton Flats.

He was advised by the league not to take on a partner until after he bid was entered.

The Toronto-based brothers are on the board of the Harlo Financial Group, which invests in real estate, wealth management, and the entertainment industry. Michael Kimel is the head of the Chase Hospitality Group.

Michael Kimel recently founded OverActive Media, which invests in e-sports, and he also served on the management committee of the Penguins.

The Kimel family has the financial wherewithal to make a deal and the knowledge needed to help build LeBreton but they’re hardly alone on that front.

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Postmedia has linked the following names to Senators ownership bids:

  • André Desmarais of Power Corp, who was part of a failed bid for the LeBreton Flats project five years ago;
  • Hamilton billionaire Michael Andlauer, who owns 20 per cent of the Montreal Canadiens and is alternate governor for the club;
  • Rocco Tullio, a Windsor-based developer who offered $650 million for the team before owner Eugene Melnyk passed away;
  • Paul and Michael Paletta of Alinea Group Holdings have confirmed to this newspaper through a spokesperson they’re considering a bid.
  • Farmboy chief executive officer Jeff York, who is trying to put together a group of local investors to partner with the new owner;
  • Paul Rivett, co-owner of the Toronto Star, who is is trying to put a group together;
  • Neil Malhotra of Ottawa-based Claridge Homes has stepped up his efforts to make bid because of the opportunity for real estate development.

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sungarrioch

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