The Ottawa Senators were officially sold to Michael Andlauer and his group of partners on Thursday, Sept. 21. It took longer than anticipated and had some hiccups along the way. But 10 months after being put on the market, the team is in new hands. In a media conference on Friday, Andlauer met in front of everybody for the first time as the official owner and introduced himself to the fanbase and city. Broadcasters Dean Brown and Gord Wilson hosted the event and kicked things off by introducing the NHL’s commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I am not used to that,” Bettman said after a warm welcome. He began by paying homage to the original founders, including Bruce Firestone, while noting the importance of Eugene Melnyk before introducing Andlauer as the new owner. Bettman went on to talk about the excitement level from fans, community members and league-wide towards the Senators this upcoming season and years ahead. After reassuring that there should be no doubts about the future of the franchise and that it will be staying in the city of Ottawa, Bettman introduced Andlauer to the microphone.
Andlauer’s First Statements
Andlauer started by taking ownership over the fact that the process was drawn out and how emotional it is to finally get to this point. He drew comparisons to his wedding day with the overwhelming amounts of emotions and enthusiasm. “I can finally say we did it. I am home,” said Andlauer.
Andlauer introduced the investors of the partnership, including Jeff York, the Malhotra family, Anna and Olivia Melnyk, Paul and Michael Paletta, and Rocco Tulio.
Over the past few months, Andlauer has developed relationships with current leaders Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux while also taking part in meeting alumni Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson and many more. He added later in the presser that he strongly valued the involvement of team alumni, adding, “Once a Sen, always a Sen.”
It could be expected that some of the alumni will be welcomed back into the organization, including but not limited to Alfredsson, Neil and others. The roles they may take on are yet to be determined, but they could be big or small.
Andlauer noted that Belleville is a true hockey town, and he has no intentions of having them anywhere but there. He met with some of the people who run the team, the mayor of Belleville and more. Playing between the cities of Montreal and Toronto, Andlauer embraces the “underdog” mentality and promises to take care of the team on and off the ice.
Andlauer’s first order of action is to have Cyril Leeder hired in the role of Chief Executive Officer and President. He has a ton of experience with the team, knows the market and “truly bleeds red, black and gold,” as Andlauer described. Andlauer had a very positive closing remark to his opening segment, finishing by saying, “Let’s bring the Cup back to Ottawa. Go Sens Go.”
After expressing his appreciation for his second chance and thanking Andlauer, the new CEO gave thanks to all of the people who helped him get to this point. “We have a big agenda and a lot of work to do.”
Leeder was fired by Melnyk in 2017. After being one of the people working hard to bring a team to Ottawa, 25 years of work with the Senators and plenty of knowledge and experience in this market, it was clear that having Leeder return was a priority.
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As his first order of business, Leeder announced Erin Crowe would remain as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer of Senators, and he will be relying on her heavily.
Ian Mendes: You have probably had a lot of complicated financial transactions closing over the years. How would you relate this one against some of the other big deals you have closed over the years?
Andlauer: This was a long process — 321 days. It was definitely complicated. The last three months were on me really. I have the Ottawa-Gatineau group with 11 partners, the diligence the NHL puts you through is the right thing. [Bettman] has always talked about the importance of stability, and I made it very difficult for the NHL over the past three months since June. Obviously, we made it to the finish line, so it went well. The first seven months were different, and we will leave it at that.
Mendes: “In your letter to season ticket holders and again today, you characterize yourself as an underdog. I am wondering if you can expand on why the ‘underdog’ label fits you.”
Andlauer: “Pretty much my story. I don’t want to elaborate too much, but I was raised by my mom in Montreal in the 1970s, and that wasn’t very easy for her. She always focused on hard work, education and respect. I put myself through university and started my own business. A lot of people didn’t think I would be that successful. In Hamilton, hockey didn’t do well previously, and I couldn’t make a go of it in Hamilton, and I kept hockey in Hamilton for 20 years. Ottawa is a small market, and I like the underdog feel. It makes us work harder, more determined and more passionate. The one thing I noticed in my observations was that on the ice and off the ice, you could feel the passion and that care. For me, the recipe is to always care more. Bring it on. I am okay being the underdog.”
Bruce Garrioch: “What is your first priority as owner?”
Andlauer: “Good to finally meet you, Bruce, you know so much about me. My priority off the bat is to learn. I have a lot to learn about the Ottawa-Gatineau aspect, and that is why I surrounded myself with a great group of partners. You can’t think you know it all. I like best practices. I am a best practice guy. I am from Montreal, so I will observe and see what we can do to make it better. For me, my first order is to learn, observe and collaborate. There are some pressing matters on the table, including real estate. I already met with Tobi Nussbaum of the NCC [National Capital Commission] and the Mayor on several occasions.”
Garrioch: “You talk about winning a Stanley Cup. What is your plan to get this team there?”
Andlauer: “I am not going to tell you so other teams will know. It is my passion, it truly is my passion to win a Cup like most young Canadians growing up, especially where hockey is a fabric of the community. I believe I can make a difference. I think I have done it at different levels of hockey, whether it is the American Hockey League [AHL] or Ontario Hockey League [OHL]. The fundamentals are the same, but I am determined.”
Claire Hanna: “You alluded to the real estate, so I am curious. Where do you envision the physical footprint of this building in the next 5-10 years?”
Andlauer: “With the way construction goes, I presume we will be here [Canadian Tire Center] in five years with how the government moves sometimes, so it might be a little longer. Here is the thing on the real estate side. In speaking with the Mayor and other stakeholders, including the fans, the Mayor wants it, the NCC wants it, the Ottawa Senators want it, and the fans want it. We are all going in the same direction, so it is a matter of working together and seeing what works. I am excited about the opportunity. I have confronted other initiatives where all of a sudden, you have headwinds from one of the parties, and then it becomes contentious, and it doesn’t happen… let’s see where it goes. One of the first goals I have to get involved in is the real estate.”
Hanna: “You are a players-first team owner. We heard from one of your players (in Hamilton) that you make an appearance every five games.”
Andlauer: “I am an employee first. That is part of the success. It is collaborative, it is about good communication. I definitely won’t be there every five games. I plan to be there four out of every five games. I have a place in Westborough, so I want to be part of the community.”
Kyle Bukauskas: “One step further, you have been around championships, you have won. What is your philosophy around winning?”
Andlauer: “Player first. It is listening, good communication, holding people accountable and understanding why they are being held accountable. To me, it is common sense. I am hands-on and passionate, but I am not the one making the decisions. If I make the decisions, I can’t hold people accountable. It is true communication. Be honest and transparent. We all have the same goal.”
Wayne Scanlan: “I am just wondering, with your minority partners, how do you expect to get them involved? Will it be on a day-to-day basis or mostly on the business side, how will that work?”
Andlauer: “Typically, this type of partnership will have board meetings four times a year. I always have an open-door policy. As we look at things, I have a great partnership that looks at all the different aspects of our business. To me, it is an open-door policy.”
Murray Pam: “You grew up in Montreal, you were a lifelong Montreal Canadiens fan, you became part-owner. What was the family reaction when you wanted to bid on the Ottawa Senators?”
Andlauer: “It was shock. My wife loved it, so she could go in the closet and clean out all the Habs gear. Hockey is part of our family make-up. My son works for the NHL, and we will leave it at that, right, Lexi? [Alluding to his daughters’ relationship with Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan McLeod.] Twenty years involved, they have grown up with the game, saw the passion and ultimately the thrill of winning a Cup, whatever league you are in… it makes it all worthwhile… Geoff Moslon told me I should have my own team.”
Andlauer went on to answer more questions, mostly about the plans for moving forward with the rink. There were other questions about real estate, the process of the sale and questions in French that, admittedly, I could not follow. He also talked about the importance of alumni involvement with the team.
What is Next for Andlauer?
The new arena is going to be something that gets worked on for a while. So, while he could be working on that as you read this, it isn’t the “next” order of business.
Brent Wallace joined the Senators Roundtable podcast and mentioned Leeder would become CEO, and following suit would be Steve Staios joining the organization as “general manager, or somewhere above Pierre Dorion.” Peter Chiarelli would be likely in a head of hockey operations or vice president role. Wallace also referenced the fact that he does not believe Dorion would be sticking around longer than three months into the season. While that is pure speculation, it is common practice for owners to implement the team they want to run their hockey team.
It took longer than anticipated, but it has come to a close. The team has been sold. It was a successful presser, fans were excited to watch, and there were some great questions asked. There is plenty of reason to be excited about the future of the Ottawa Senators with Andlauer as the owner.