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Archive for Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Habs up for grabs: Molson to sell Montreal Canadiens

June 28, 2000

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— Hockey's greatest dynasty is for sale.

The Montreal Canadiens, whose rich tradition of 24 championships is surpassed in North America only by baseball's New York Yankees, were put on the market Tuesday by Molson brewery.

Molson, which has been associated with the Canadiens for 40 years, said it could no longer make money "given the current economic conditions in the NHL," and was selling so that it could concentrate on its beer business.

The Canadiens won't be leaving town, however, because one condition of the sale is that the team must stay in Montreal.

The Canadiens earned their glorious reputation by winning five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-60, four in five years from 1965-69, and then four straight from 1976-79.

But the team lost money last year and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the first time that has happened since 1922. It last won the Stanley Cup in 1993.

Rising player salaries, a lack of playoff revenue, the weak Canadian dollar and high municipal taxes on the Molson Centre, where the team plays, prompted the brewery's decision.

"It became very clear that given the current economic conditions in the NHL, it is almost impossible to be a sole owner and deliver a winning team," Daniel O'Neill, Molson's new president, said at a news conference.

Serge Savard, former Canadiens general manager and player, said hockey clubs have become too expensive to operate.

"Nobody could have predicted this five years ago that all professional teams would lose money," he said.

Belgium beer giant Interbrew, owner of John Labatt breweries of Toronto, also has put baseball's Blue Jays up for sale.

O'Neill dismissed suggestions that any new owner could move the team, saying it would be "unthinkable" for the Canadiens to not play in Montreal.

The city is so identified with the team that civic authorities are considering renaming Montreal's Dorval Airport for Maurice Richard, the Canadiens' Hall of Famer who died earlier this year.

Molson is intent on retaining its link to a team that has stirred French-Canadian passions and produced such hockey greats as Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante and Guy Lafleur.

"Molson is strongly attached to the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and this has been a very difficult decision for everyone concerned," Molson chairman Eric Molson said.

The team, known as "les habitants" or "the Habs" for the rugged farmers who settled in what is now Quebec in the 17th century, has a rich tradition.

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