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Molson brothers reach deal to buy Canadiens

NHL.com @NHL

MONTREAL (AP) -The Molson family is poised to buy back the Montreal Canadiens.

Team owner George Gillett and Geoff Molson issued a joint statement Saturday saying they have an agreement in principle for three Molson brothers to purchase the club.

The deal needs approval from the NHL's board of governors, which they expect to occur by late August.

A team spokesman said no time frame has been set for the announcement.

The two sides did not reveal the sale price or any other details.

Gillett owned 80.1 percent of the team, its arena and its event promotion company.

Brothers Geoff, Andrew and Justin Molson, whose family first bought into the Canadiens in the 1950s, were up against a handful of bidders for the team, including Quebecor Media.

Gillett said he was "pleased to return the ownership of the Canadiens to the Molson family, a family that has been associated with the club for over three generations and committed to the Montreal community for seven generations over a 223-year period."

Gillett purchased his majority share in the team in 2001 for $275 million. The remaining 19.9 percent remains with the Molson Coors company. Geoff Molson is on the team's board of directors, but he withdrew from its activities during the sale process.

Gillett has built the Canadiens into one of the NHL's most profitable clubs. He is also co-owner of soccer giant Liverpool with Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks.

"I am fully confident that the Molson brothers, who have been a great part of the heritage of the club, will ensure the preservation and development of this great sports institution," Gillett said.

"This is a very exciting time for our family," Geoff Molson said in the statement.

Provincial finance minister Raymond Bachand has made a $100 million loan available to any new owners, as long as they're from Quebec.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said ownership by the Molson family will be good for the team's fans.

"I think to the extent that they've been able to find people who are obviously passionate about the game and structure a transaction that makes sense for everybody, that's a real plus for the franchise and the fans in Montreal," he said.

Despite mixed results on the ice, the Canadiens have consistently sold out the Bell Centre, the league's largest venue with 21,273 seats, since the 2004-05 lockout season.

The agreement came as the Canadiens were preparing to play host to the NHL draft this week.

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