On most days, the spirited game between the Tkachuk brothers that resulted in a victory for the Senators and spawned a new chant inside the Canadian Tire Center will be the top story in Ottawa.
At times during Ottawa’s 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the crowd chanted “Brady is better!” As a way of mocking Matthew Tkachuk. The cheering was loud enough that it caught the eye of Mads Søggard, even though goalkeepers are supposed to focus on the action happening on the ice.
“I heard that,” Sugard said, laughing. “I thought he was very funny. I know Brady is a very competitive guy. I don’t know Matthew, but I would expect the same for him. I was just watching him and listening and laughing a little bit.”
“I love the passion of the fans. It means a lot to me,” said Tkachuk.
But this was not the case on most days at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators won, and Tkachuk’s goal and cheer overshadowed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s visit to town. The timing of Bettman’s visit was certainly curious, given the imminent sale of the franchise.
On Monday, Bettman shed more light on the operation, which has been shrouded in relative secrecy since it began in early November.
What is the latest update of the sales completion schedule?
Bateman confirmed that the operation is in its second phase, but declined to give a firm timeline on when this part of the operation will end.
“We’re not on a clock, and the goal is to get it right. If it takes a little bit longer, it takes a little bit longer,” Bateman said.
During an appearance on TSN 1200 with host Steve Lloyd, Bettman laid out a rough framework for how the timing would work — with his answer suggesting a result sometime in June.
“Once we get to the clearing party, then you have to go through the attorneys to get the contracts done. And we have a league approval process to complete. There’s still two to three months of work to be done,” Pittman said.
The commissioner offered some tips for Ottawa fans hoping to get a definitive answer about ownership in the next couple of weeks.
“So everyone takes a deep breath,” Bateman added. “Relax and we’ll get through this process and we’ll come out of it on the other side with a really strong new owner.”
Analytical: I still expect there to be a conditional sale sometime in the middle or end of April. And then it may take an additional four to six weeks to remove some of the extra red tape that Bateman was alluding to, such as attorney papers and formal board of governors approval. When the Senators were sold to Eugene Melnyk in the spring of 2003, he received conditional approval on May 10. Almost five weeks later, the deal was officially approved by the Board of Governors on June 18. Similar schedule here.
In an ideal world, you might want to consider finalizing and putting the deal into place on or before June 1 — to allow the new owners to make any potential changes to the hockey operations division well before the next NHL season begins. The new season generally begins with the NHL Draft, which takes place June 28-29 in Nashville. Free agency will open two days later on July 1. The new owners can certainly choose to maintain the status quo and retain the entire staff, but that decision will be taken out of their hands if the sale is not completed until the earliest date of July 1st.
How many bidders are left?
Bettman oversaw a few dozen ownership changes during his 30-year tenure as NHL commissioner. The only NHL franchises that haven’t changed during Bettman’s watch are the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings. So given his extensive experience overseeing franchise sales, it’s impressive to hear Bettman declare that this operation in Ottawa is one of the most competitive he’s ever seen.
“Let’s say this is among the most dynamic operations I’ve ever seen,” Bateman said.
The commissioner gave an update on how many potential bidders were still in the process, with Pittman telling reporters there were “somewhere around six” applicants. It’s been a constant theme, with Bettman repeating the same number—in a different way—during a TSN 1200 interview.
“There has been some slurping in the number of bidders, and the more serious bidders — of whom there are at least half a dozen — are now engaged in the process of coming to see the building,” Bateman said.
Groups have been coming to Ottawa individually for the past few days. The group, led by the Kimmel family, arrived in town last Friday. The Neko Sparks consortium is expected to arrive in town sometime later this week. Each group will have the opportunity to visit the Canadian Tire Center to try out the Senators’ game and do their own “due diligence” on the organization according to Pittman.
At one point, Pittman was asked directly about Ryan Reynolds’ possible involvement with the Senators. Reynolds joined the offer made by The Remington Group, a Toronto-based real estate company that views NHL franchises in the past.
“He wants his attempt to be complete. He wants to take it from start to finish,” Bateman said. “And as I said, I respect his view of the process and wish him the best of luck.”
Bettman would not be involved in any discussions about the potential sale price of the team or discuss whether a major league would be palatable as an owner, dismissing such questions as “speculation”.
Analytical: Last March, I wrote about the fact that there were multiple groups interested in buying the Ottawa Senators and keeping them in Ottawa. But in my wildest dreams, I never imagined a scenario in which as many as half a dozen groups would compete for Senators and drive the price close to a billion dollars.
When Bettman told reporters at GM meetings earlier this month that there was a “liquidation” process, she felt the number of potential suitors would be narrowed down to two or three. Instead, we are still at a stage where at least six candidates appear viable, which likely means we should expect an intense round of bidding from each group to finish this stage.
What’s the latest new arena for the Senators?
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe offered a little levity when asked to describe his first encounter with Bateman on Monday.
“There was only one request that was made at the meeting and that was a request by me to Gary Pittman not to give the Stanley Cup to the Toronto Maple Leafs this year,” Sutcliffe joked.
But when asked to expand on discussions about a new arena for the Senators, Sutcliffe brought up the idea of the team staying at their current location in Kanata.
“The team can stay here. The team can build on the parking lot here and demolish that building, as many sports franchises have done,” Sutcliffe explained.
It was an idea echoed by Bateman during a TSN 1200 interview.
“All options are going to be on the table. That’s what potential owners are told. They might want to stay here at the Canadian Tire Center and do some work and build a business around the yard,” Bateman said. “They might want to move downtown to LeBreton Flats, they might want to In moving to the city centre. I realize there may be two or three other potential sites that are in the works.”
This answer is a stark departure from some of Bettman’s previous comments regarding the Senators playing in the downtown arena. When Bettman was attending a Senators Global Series game in Sweden in November 2017, he described the downtown arena as “vital” to the franchise’s future.
Sutcliffe expanded on his answer and told reporters that there were many alternative locations within the city limits that could house an NHL-sized arena.
“There are other locations in Ottawa if the new owners decide LeBreton Flats is not for them or if they can’t come to an agreement with the NCC,” Sutcliffe said. “There are a lot of options and I think it’s good for us to look at it that way.”
This is all speculation, as the new owner will have complete control over the circuit’s operation once he officially takes over the team. But it has been made clear by all involved that the new owners are not necessarily obliged to abide by the Memorandum of Understanding reached with the National Capital Commission (NCC) last June. There will be some flexibility here going forward.
“Ultimately what happens to the arena is that there is a decision that the new owner will make, whoever it is,” Bateman said.
If there is hesitation about the location of the LeBreton Flats, it is because the current agreement only calls for the Senators to own approximately seven acres of land to work with to build an NHL arena. Sutcliffe alluded to the fact that there was a possibility of giving more land to the senators – although it was not within his jurisdiction.
“I’ve heard there’s a possibility it’s a little bit bigger, but you know that’s a question for the NCC,” Sutcliffe said.
While there appears to be some ambiguity with the arena’s location, Sutcliffe seems steadfast in staying, he doesn’t endorse a plan where big taxpayer money would be used directly to fund a brand-new arena to be used exclusively by an NHL team.
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves when we start talking about what the model will look like and what role the city can play. I’ve said it all along and my position hasn’t changed. I’m not in favor of the City of Ottawa issuing a check to contribute tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to a privately owned arena “It’s not something I would support,” said Sutcliffe.
Analytical: Last December, I wrote about the possibility of the new ownership group looking for an alternative site for LeBreton Flats if they didn’t get more than seven acres to work with. I was adamant all along that if this was really a real estate game for a developer, they would want more than seven acres of land. And this speculation about alternative arena locations may just be a ploy to try and gain some leverage to gain more territory.
But there are certainly a few spots to keep an eye on as potential replacement locations for Ottawa’s NHL arena outside of LeBreton Flats.
Back when the Senators were originally scouting the LeBreton Flats area, they did some preliminary research on alternative locations in the downtown core for an NHL arena. I know they have studied the former DND headquarters near Colonel By Drive, the RCMP land near the baseball stadium and the City Center site near the Bayview LRT station. Sutcliffe himself brought up the idea of the yard near Hurdman’s crossing site when he was interviewed by TSN 1200 last week.
In December, I also referred to a lot on Robinson Ave. – Just off 417th and Lees Ave – Seems to be ideally located for the NHL arena.
The department’s next possible date on the calendar in arena debate comes this fall, when the Senators should be able to draft the parameters for a lease agreement with the NCC for the new arena. But given the chatter about alternative sites and the fact that the new owners may want new land, it is inevitable that the deadline with the NCC will be pushed back by a few months.
(Top photo: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)