Dragons’ Den, pop culture icons, big money all vie for Ottawa Senators

Sale has come down to 4 official bidders, one of whom could own an NHL hockey team by the end of the week

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An enterprising, plot-obsessed, Hollywood filmmaker may one day cast their eyes upon the drama that is the sale of the Ottawa Senators when casting about for potential blockbusters.

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This is a hockey franchise once owned by Eugene Melnyk, the pharmaceutical king who once ran afoul of securities regulators, had a sideline business in women’s fragrances and frequent tussles with his Ottawa fanbase perhaps best summarized as: the paying customers believed him to be cheap and blamed him for trading much-adored, all-star defenceman Erik Karlsson to a team in California.

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Melnyk died in March 2022 and his estate, controlled by his daughters Olivia and Anna, have put the team up for sale, which caught the attention of Canadian actor, heartthrob and, judging by his public utterances, all-around good guy Ryan Reynolds.

In true wisecracking form, Reynolds told the Tonight Show he would need to partner with a “sugar mommy or a sugar daddy” to purchase a team that is reportedly expected to fetch between US$800 million and US$1 billion.

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Reynolds, whose sideline gigs have involved making successful investment bets on everything from mobile networks to booze to historic Welsh soccer teams, appeared to be the perfect suitor, until he dropped out of the bidding.

But fear not, plot lovers, the sale of the Senators, which is being handled by New York-based Galatioto Sports Partners, continues to juice the narrative interest with celebrity content. There’s Snoop Dogg, the Los Angeles-based rapper/pop-culture icon, who entered the fray prior to Reynolds hitting the exits as part of serial entrepreneur/filmmaker Neko Sparks’ bid for the team. Snoop has since been joined by a whack of investors from the Dragons’ Den as well as sprinter Donovan Bailey and comedian Russell Peters.

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Dragons' Den cast members, from left to right, Arlene Dickinson, Vincenzo Guzzo, Manjit Minhas, Robert Herjavec, Wes Hall and Michele Romanow. Some of the group have joined in a bid for the Ottawa Senators.
Dragons’ Den cast members, from left to right, Arlene Dickinson, Vincenzo Guzzo, Manjit Minhas, Robert Herjavec, Wes Hall and Michele Romanow. Some of the group have joined in a bid for the Ottawa Senators. Photo by Courtesy CBC

Fact often proves stranger than fiction, and the fact is that the sale of the Senators has (finally) come down to four not-just-kicking-the-tires official bidders, none of whom are named Ryan Reynolds, but one of them could own an NHL hockey team by the end of the week.

The trucker

Michael Andlauer may lack the instant name recognition of some of the other bidders, but the founder and chief executive of Andlauer Healthcare Group Inc., a trucking and logistics company, clearly has a pile of money and a pre-existing relationship with the NHL.

His Vaughan, Ont.-based publicly traded company, which specializes in transporting vaccines and other temperature-controlled medicines, rang up $648.4 million in revenues and almost $80 million in net income in 2022.

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Michael Andlauer, owner of the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs stands outside the Civic Centre in Brantford, Ont.
Michael Andlauer, owner of the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs stands outside the Civic Centre in Brantford, Ont. Photo by Brian Thompson/Brantford Expositor/Postmedia Network

Aside from his deep pockets, Andlauer has longstanding ties to professional hockey. Once upon a time, he owned the Montreal Canadiens’ farm team in Hamilton, a position he upgraded when he bought a minority stake in the Habs. (The Bulldogs are now a junior hockey team, and Andlauer is still the owner).

The wealthy, hockey-loving trucking magnate would have to sell his stake in the Canadiens if his bid is successful, which would be a handy entry point into a potential, Ryan Reynolds wants to buy an NHL team, sequel, working title: Take that, Ottawa!

The Harvard grad

Every story starts somewhere, and the best place to start when talking about Toronto billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos’ money is with his father Andreas. The elder Apostolopoulos immigrated to Canada from Greece in 1969, found work as a janitor, a labourer and, in time along with an abundance of elbow grease, a small-business owner who pivoted into commercial real estate and development, ultimately amassing the kind of fortune that lends itself to sending one’s son to Harvard.

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Andreas died in 2021, and his son assumed the keys to the family’s real estate fortune as head of the Triple Group of Cos., as well as founding his own private-equity firm Six Ventures Inc., not to mention co-founding a credit-card company.

Apostolopoulos also enjoys fun and games, and bid US$6 billion for the NFL’s Washington Commanders, a failed effort to crack into the ranks of professional sports ownership that came after he had reportedly been chatting with Michael Jordan about buying the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Now, it’s hockey. The third time, as they say, can be a charm, as can bringing billions of dollars to the table.

The siblings

In the long, tortured history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there are scars aplenty, and examples of great hockey players who can’t win the cup in the big city, so they head off by way of trade or free agency and wind up winning it elsewhere. Such was the case with Phil Kessel, a sniper as a Leaf, but a Stanley Cup champion as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

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Given the cup for a day, as per the tradition for the winning team, Kessel reportedly brought the trophy to Toronto to party at the mansion of Penguins minority owner Mike Kimel and his brother Jeff. The Kimels no longer own a stake in the Penguins, but they have been busy: Mike, with Harlo Entertainment, a hospitality and esports outfit, and Jeff with Harlo Capital, a real estate focused-private-equity player.

Singer Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) has joined a bid for the Senators.
Singer Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) has joined a bid for the Senators. Photo by Julie Sebadelha/AFP via Getty Images

The brothers approached Eugene Melnyk prior to his death to express their interest in building the Senators a new downtown rink at LeBreton Flats. They have since scaled-up their ambitions to buy the team, while adding a serious dash of musical panache to their bid group by bringing in singer Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) aboard.

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The who’s who

It is unclear how much money Neko Sparks’ group brings to the table, but the filmmaker obviously has a masterful grasp of public relations and diplomacy. He enlisted Snoop Dogg to his cause and temporarily grabbed the media spotlight when everybody was gushing about Ryan Reynolds.

That move could have been written off as a last-gasp stunt of a dying bid, but it has instead proved to be more an opening salvo in what might best be described as a big tent, progressive ownership strategy, wherein a guy, who is looking to become the first black owner in a predominantly white league, has said he would offer an equity stake in the team to the First Nations.

Now, enter the Dragons’ Den crew — Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec, Wes Hall, and Manjit and Ravinder Minhas — as well as Donovan Bailey and Russell Peters, plus the creation of a special purpose vehicle to allow Canadian investors to participate in the bid, and Sparks’ tent is jam-packed. But is it jammed with enough money to win over the Melnyk heirs? Stay tuned.

• Email: joconnor@nationalpost.com | Twitter: oconnorwrites


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