Were it not for a certain $100 million winger’s decision to retire to Russia*, the most head-spinning financial development concerning the New Jersey Devils would have involved Forbes vs. reality.
Last week, writer Mike Ozanian – a plugged-in guy on the Devils’ various debt crisis – wrote that the team was “likely” to be taken over by the NHL, becoming another Phoenix Coyotes boondoggle. His caveat: That the takeover wouldn’t happen if the team was sold quickly.
Yet at the same time, Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris and his group were revealed as serious bidders for the Devils. They would take on the debt load. They would take over the arena. They would do what many predicted no potential owner would do unless the team was shuffled off into bankruptcy first.
On Thursday, the Devils are expected to announce Harris, who is worth a reported $2.1 billion, as the team’s new owner, after the NHL Board of Governors approved the sale on Wednesday. The Bergen Record has the sale price at “more than $320 million,” which includes the operating rights to the Prudential Center.
The last remaining hurdle in the Devils’ sale, which progressed quickly over the last week, was cleared Wednesday when the NHL’s Board of Governors completed its vote to approve the transfer from outgoing principal owner Jeff Vanderbeek to Harris’ group, a source said. Vanderbeek will retain a small minority ownership stake and a role in the organization. Lou Lamoriello, who has been with the team since 1987, is expected to remain CEO, president and general manager.
The sale price will cover the approximately $200 million in debts the Devils and Devils’ Arena Entertainment have accumulated and still leave Vanderbeek with a significant surplus. Forbes magazine valued the Devils at $205 million in November of 2012, but team sources have long contended that Forbes underestimated the team’s worth.
Harris’ purchase price pays off the team’s lenders, who are owed $170 million. Only a few months ago, several sizable lenders sold their stakes for roughly 70 cents on the dollar.
Current owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek, who is selling because he can no longer afford to keep the money-losing club, even gets saved. He will collect roughly $80 million covering much of his personal investment, a source said. He will no longer be involved in the team he has run since 2004.
The Post also says the Devils will break even this year if they make the playoffs. Even with that Ryane Clowe contract!
So Harris will own Philadelphia’s NBA team and New Jersey’s NHL team, which should make his conversations with Flyers fans rather colorful …
We’ll have more on this later when Harris and his group speak. Meanwhile, we’ll mull the irony that the very arena that helped create the Devils’ massive debt is probably the sole reason why they were able to find an owner willing to bail them out.
* The Devils were being sold this summer, one way or another. Kovalchuk’s contract miraculously came off the books at the same time. But yes, keep believing the Devils were blindsided, or that this wasn't mutually beneficial in some way.