Bobby Smith presents a Halifax Mooseheads jersey to new owner U.S. businessman Sam Simon during a
news conference at the Nova Centre in Halifax on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. - Tim Krochak
HALIFAX, N.S. — Bobby Smith's time as majority owner of the Halifax Mooseheads is over.
Smith announced the sale of his 85 per cent stake in the QMJHL franchise to Michigan businessman Sam Simon after 20 years on Tuesday. Simon becomes the third primary owner of the club, which first belonged to the Oland family and Moosehead Breweries from 1994 to 2003.
"I wasn't going to own the team forever and none of my kids who have their own lives... were interested so when a good buyer presented himself and he saw the Mooseheads as the team he wanted to buy and this guy was going to be a real asset to the team, there was a deal to be made," Smith said. "We put one together and here we are."
Smith said he didn't have the team on the market but when Simon first expressed interest a few months ago, it felt like a fit from the start and it came together fairly fluidly after that.
"It wasn't really for sale," Smith said. "But I would get some unsolicited calls or I would get a business guy in town saying 'A client of mine is interested in buying the team, do you want to talk to him?' I would have a conversation but it did not happen very often."
Bobby Smith hands the puck he took from the first game as owner of the Halifax Mooseheads and hands it over to new owner U.S. businessman Sam Simon during a news conference at the Nova Centre in Halifax on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. - Tim Krochak
"When (QMJHL commissioner) Gilles Courteau first contacted me on the last day of October, I knew this was a serious person and a serious businessman," he added. "So when we spent some time together and talked about it with my family, that's how it came around."
Simon is from Detroit where he owns Atlas Oil and Simon Group Holdings, both exceptionally profitable companies. He declined to disclose the purchase price for the Mooseheads but said many times how passionate he and his family are about getting into sports ownership.
"When we came to this community, I've got to tell you we fell in love with it," Simon said. "The people, the fans, the community — you guys have a beautiful place. And the Mooseheads, everybody loves them and it's a community team."
Simon is a self-made multimillionaire who told the story of arriving in Detroit as an Armenian immigrant in 1973 with less than nothing. He said his family was $200 in debt when they landed in the United States but he launched his oil company in 1984 and hasn't looked back. Simon said Atlas Oil has "a few billion dollars" in annual sales and he owns 100 per cent of the company, which has approximately 700 employees.
Halifax Mooseheads majority owner Bobby Smith and the Trade Centre Limited agreed to a new five-year
agreement to continue at the downtown Halifax sports venue in March 30, 2010. - File
Simon said he nearly bought the NBA's Detroit Pistons 20 years ago and has always had an eye on becoming a sports franchise owner. He and his twin sons Peter and Michael go to every Detroit Red Wings game they can, with Peter saying he's only missed two this year and describing how they all travel regularly to other parts of the United States to watch them on the road.
Peter will be especially active with his father in running the team and Michael will also be quite involved once he graduates from university.
"This was always a dream for us," Simon said. "Now with my son Peter, who loves the sport, we've been looking for a good team. We were looking at at least four teams before we came here."
Simon and his sons will remain in Michigan but plan to be in Halifax as much as possible. Peter will travel with the team on its road trip to Quebec this week.
Sam Simon, right, and his son Peter hold up a Halifax Mooseheads jersey at the announcement
Tuesday naming Simon as the new owner of the team,. - Tim Krochak
"We'll be back and forth but I think that the city will see and the community will see and the team will see that we're very hands-on people," said Peter, who just completed his degree in sports management. "We're very involved and we want to make sure that we're doing the right thing. We want to make sure that we're doing a good job and that we're good stewards for the team but we'll also be very visible, not only with the Mooseheads but also with community events. We want to be part of the community."
The Simons said they plan to keep the foundation Smith built with his staff over the past two decades in place but did suggest they want to ramp up certain parts of the fan experience.
"We'll be listening to our coaches and we're going to listen to our GM; nothing's going to change," Sam said. "The only thing I will change is 'How can we add more into making it better?' With my business strategies and my ideas, they will see there's a lot more we can do here."
1994: Harold MacKay brings QMJHL to Halifax
2000: Mooseheads host Memorial Cup
2003: Mooseheads make President's Cup final, Bobby Smith buys team
2005: Mooseheads make President's Cup final
2013: Mooseheads win President's Cup and Memorial Cup
2019: Mooseheads host Memorial Cup
2023: Sam Simon becomes team's new owner
"The fans have been awesome but you will see a big difference," he added. "We're going to bring in a lot more tools and a lot more ideas. We've got to support our fans much more."
Smith made a symbolic gesture of giving Simon the puck Derek Oland gave him 20 years ago when he bought the majority share.
"Today brings me back to Sept. 18, 2003," Smith said. "Derek Oland and I walked out to center ice and had a ceremonial faceoff. I dropped this puck on the ice that day and I've kept it on my desk all these years. It's just reminded me of the obligation I had and the blessing it's been for me to own the Halifax Mooseheads and what I owe every day to our players and to our fans and our employees and our city and our league."
Smith will remain as a consultant for the Simons for a few years to help them make a smooth transition into the market and the league. That should help Smith ease his transition from being a highly engaged owner who immersed himself in all areas of the team to his new chapter as retiree.
"I'm definitely going to miss it," Smith said. "I get up in the morning and there's a game that afternoon and (my wife) Beth will yell back to the office 'What are you doing?' I'll say 'Well, we're thinking about a trade so I'm watching Val-d'Or play Blainville and (Josh) Lawrence and (Alexandre) Doucet are out there. I'll be out in a couple of hours.' I've loved it and there's no question I'm going to miss it. Since I was 17 years old junior hockey or the NHL has been a big part of my life."
Bobby Smith during his NHL playing days with the Montreal Canadiens. - Ice Hockey Wiki
Smith lives in Arizona so he's already in an ideal retirement community and said he he thinks his days in hockey ownership and management are behind him for good. He was an NHL player for 15 years, followed by five more as general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes so he feels now at 65 years old it's time for a new focus.
"I walked away from playing and it was the easiest thing I ever did in my life," Said Smith, who played 1,077 games for the Minnesota North Stars and Montreal Canadiens. "I scored five goals my last year in the NHL and it was not hard to walk away. I kept waiting (to miss it). Bob Gainey would say to me 'I really missed it when the playoffs started' and somebody else said to me 'I really missed it at training camp.' But I walked away and there was nothing. I walked away from being an NHL general manager and it was the same thing.
"I'm not sure how this is going to be because it's so enjoyable but I know I'm leaving it in good hands, I know I'm leaving him a very good team and a very good organization so I think it'll be easy to walk away from this as well."