It’s been roughly 24 hours since Forbes, ESPN and a pair of astute beat reporters dropped the proverbial bomb on Devils fans.
Those financial problems the Devils were having but Gary Bettman totally said weren’t true? Yeah, they’re actually very real – real enough that not only are the Devils and the Prudential Center for sale, but, according to multiple media reports, they need to be sold before the 2013-14 season begins so the franchise can make payroll. If they aren’t sold by then, multiple sources tell Forbes that Bettman and the NHL will have to step in and take over the franchise because the franchise is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
Now, before you start counting the change in your red and black piggy bank or planning a move to Seattle, take heed, Devils fans. This is not bad news.
I repeat: This is not bad news.
Jeff Vanderbeek was ill-equipped to be a majority NHL owner in the long run. He either misunderstood the financial necessities or misrepresented his portfolio and was naive enough to believe he could weather the financial storm of a season-shortening lockout combined with the sting of going from the Stanley Cup final to missing the playoffs entirely.
The Devils have always operated on a smaller budget than their big-city cousins across the Hudson or down the turnpike, but under Vanderbeek last season they were so financially limited that Bobby Butler was being projected as a top-six forward in January. Even the Senators stopped trying to sell that headline.
Even if Bettman has to take over, even if you have nightmares of the Coyotes Part Deux, know that there is no Glendale City Council or Goldwater Institute standing in the way of a sale agreement. While Seattle and Portland still loom as poachers in the NHL’s wild Northwest, the Devils will not be moving. As a franchise with decades-deep roots in one of the NHL’s biggest markets, they are a far more attractive product than the Coyotes will ever be. When you factor in the local rivalries and the new arena, the Devils appear as a potentially lucrative investment if managed correctly.
The truth is the Devils spent this season shedding excess water, like that fat kid from college who went home for the summer and stopped living off the dollar menu and drinking two liters of Pepsi every 40 minutes. They no longer owe $77 million to that flaky Russian dude, who took the threat of a looming cap recapture penalty to the KHL. The Devils also won’t be the ones wondering why David Clarkson is still being paid like a top-15 winger in six years even though he’s only scored one goal in the last two months.
With Vanderbeek out of the picture, the Devils can return to normal. They’ll be run like a proper business, with enough money coming to keep booking events at The Rock and even revenue pumping through the gates to, you know, pay the players’ salaries. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing? Doesn’t that sound like something you might be interested in?
It a lot of twists and turns to get here, and the Coyotes experience taught us never to assume anything was finalized until a bunch of local nutjobs steamroll local government into letting them keep their damn hockey team. That said, even a stint under Bettman’s tight-fisted payroll restrictions will be better than wondering if Vanderbeek can even afford to keep the arena running for another six months.
So while the Devils might get dragged through the mud and be punchlines for a little while, they’ll be better off in the end. And like I said, that’s not a bad thing.