MONTREAL – A new era began for the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, with a familiar name taking charge.
The NHL board of governors approved the club’s sale to a partnership group headed by the Molson family, just days before Montreal’s 100th anniversary celebration on Friday.
Geoff Molson, along with brothers Andrew and Justin, are the lead investors in a group that reportedly paid US$575 million to purchase the Canadiens, the Bell Centre and the Gillett Entertainment Group from George Gillett. The American businessman paid $275 million for the team and the arena in 2001.
The brothers become the fourth group of Molsons to own the club since the 1950s.
“It’s been five decades we’ve been involved with this team,” Geoff Molson told reporters Tuesday. “It’s in our soul, it’s in our blood, and we always wanted to once again become the owners of this team.”
Geoff Molson addressed the media alone before Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving no doubt as to who the leader of the franchise will be moving forward.
He added that fans should not expect wholesale changes in the coming months.
“We have a group of managers, the big leaders of this team (general manager) Bob Gainey and (president) Pierre Boivin, and I have a lot of confidence in them,” Molson said. “I also respect the work George Gillett has done while he was owner. We will continue to follow his leadership.”
Molson would not divulge details on the transaction, nor would he confirm the purchase price. But although there are eight partners listed, in addition to his two brothers, Molson said he will be the one making the major decisions on behalf of the franchise.
“The general partner of this partnership is me, and I will be the chairman of the board and the CEO of the partnership,” Molson said. “I’m also going to be the governor representing the team with the NHL and quite involved on a daily basis as the lead general partner of the partnership group.”
Molson would not divulge to what extent the partners will be consulted on major decisions, adding, “those are agreements that we’ve made with the partners which we’ll keep to ourselves.”
Molson said he will leave the heavy-lifting for on-ice matters to his hockey operations department, though he will have more than a passing interest.
“My management style is to give power to the people running this business and this team, but I also have a passion for what we’re starting today,” he said. “Will I be involved in decisions? Yes, but I will follow the recommendations of the management team.”
The Canadiens sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with a 12-13-2 record, but Molson said he is not concerned with his new team’s recent performance.
“I think Bob Gainey has done an excellent job rebuilding this team,” he said. “The team has an enormous amount of depth. There have been injuries and people have come up, and done their job, and done it well. There are many new players, there’s a new coach, there’s a new owner. And I feel we are in the process of building a great organization.”
The ownership group includes Bell, Canada’s largest telecommunications company, and the Thomson family-owned Woodbridge Company, which controls Thompson Reuters. Both have large stakes in CTVglobemedia (Bell 15 per cent and Woodbridge 40 per cent), whose television holdings include TSN and its French-language cousin RDS, which broadcasts Canadiens games.
Others in the group are the Quebec Labour Federation solidarity fund, which pitched in $50 million; Michael Andlauer, a French-born, Montreal-raised businessman who owns the Canadiens top farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs; and Luc Bertrand, former head of the Montreal Stock Exchange.
The National Bank Financial Group is a participant and is leading the banking syndicate, which includes the Desjardins Group and Scotiabank.
The investment agency of the Quebec government provided the final piece of the puzzle with a $75 million loan.
Molson knows what needs to happen to make sure that imposing list of partners remains happy with their investments.
“The profitability of the team we bought depends on its success as well, and we will do everything we can to try and win with this team,” Molson said. “We feel we have the right people in the right places to win.”