It’s going to be a long, long summer for the National Hockey League’s debt-riddled Eastern Conference Champions New Jersey Devils and their fans.
Just days after failing to beat the LA Kings for another shot at taking home Lord Stanley’s coveted cup, reports surfaced that team owner Jeff Vanderbeek had until August to pay off an estimated $80 million debt. On Monday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly said he was prepared to take over the team, if need be, according to a New York Post exclusive.
A deal to sell a majority stake to a mystery investor is close at hand and would allow Vanderbeek to keep control of the Devils, The Post reported early Monday. The proceeds from a sale would be used to repay lenders much of the $77 million in past due debt.
Despite the Post’s exclusive, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the New York Daily News late Monday, “I don’t anticipate either the league having to take over the team, or the team having to file for bankruptcy.
"We are working closely with the team’s current ownership and progress continues to be made toward a financial restructuring that will ensure the stability of the franchise going forward.”
The Devils played 11 home playoff games before losing 6-1 to the L.A. Kings in the Stanley Cup finals over a week ago. The team had an attendance of only about 15,000 per game during the regular season. The 11-game stretch at home during the playoffs was expected to help ease the financial strain on the team.
How team ownership and the financial situation plays out this summer is something of particular interest to captain Zach Parise, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Parise has said he would like to remain with the team, but until the ink on a new contract is dry nothing is certain. The only certainty, at this point, is that Parise isn’t likely to even consider signing with cross river rivals the New York Rangers.