Molsons reach deal on Habs, arena

Hockey's most storied franchise has been sold, pending approval from the NHL.

The Molson family has agreed in principle to purchase the Montreal Canadiens and Bell Centre from George Gillett.

"This is a very exciting time for our family and we are grateful to the many people and organizations who came forward to offer their collaboration in the development of our proposal," said Geoff Molson.

The deal needs approval from the NHL's Board of Governors. The league needs to do due diligence on the sale and have a board vote, and a source said Saturday that approval of the sale "will be sometime mid-summer at the earliest."

"Our family has been very proud to be associated with the Montreal Canadiens over the past eight years and particularly to be a part of their Centennial Season. 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," said Gillett.

French sports network RDS reported Saturday that the sale was worth $550 million, but a source told ESPN.com that the price was in excess of that.

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, assembled a group of investors for the bid.

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.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, who addressed the players during the NHLPA summer meetings in Las Vegas, acknowledged having heard about the Molson family's agreement to buy the Canadiens.

Asked about the Molson family, Bettman said: "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."

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.