The last several months have been a study in contrast for the New Jersey Devils organization and its fans. Coming off one of the most magical postseason runs in history, in which the gritty, determined underdogs came within two wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup, one would think the summer would bring speculation and optimism for the upcoming season.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from reality.
Since the incredible 2011-2012 season ended on a sheet of ice 2,700 miles away from Newark, the New Jersey faithful have experienced nothing but devastation and uncertainty at every turn. In fact, the storm clouds that have swirled around this organization seem more fitting of a team that has been mired in mediocrity for years than one coming off an Eastern Conference Championship.
After the defeat in Los Angeles, the focus immediately shifted to key free agents and the tenuous NHL labor situation, both uneasy and nerve-racking topics that were undoubtedly responsible for a spike in consumption of Maalox in the North Jersey area.
The departure of assistant coach Adam Oates in late June to become the head coach of the Washington Capitals was just the first of what seemed to be an exodus of key pieces of the team.
Next, there was the devastating news that forward Zach Parise had defected to the Minnesota Wild on July 4, leaving a gaping hole on the roster that no one was quite sure who would fill.
Barely a week after Parise’s exit, assistant coach Larry Robinson accepted an assistant coach position with the San Jose Sharks. Robinson’s exit meant that head coach Peter DeBoer had lost 50% of his staff and his team captain in a two week time period.
While the fan base waited to see what moves GM/President Lou Lamoriello would make as part of his “Plan B“, the negotiations between the NHLPA and ownership proved fruitless, dragging on all summer in a farcical charade more worthy of children in a sandbox than adults.
Looming over all this uncertainty was the team’s financial situation. Although the consistent word coming from the Devils was that everything was fine and that the team was in great financial shape, multiple media outlets had been reporting the contrary for over a year, with some even suggesting that the NHL could take over the team, as it did with the floundering Phoenix Coyotes franchise.
The fiscal struggles of the team manifested themselves in a feud with Newark Mayor Cory Booker last April after an arbitrator ruled against the city in a dispute with the team over parking revenue, leading Booker to publicly call Vanderbeek “a high-class, high-falutin huckster and hustler.”
However bleak the situation appeared, there is news today that the financial crisis surrounding the team may finally be over, or at least temporarily averted, as the New York Post is reporting that: “… owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek has finalized a deal with the team’s lenders that will keep him in control of the franchise for at least two years.”
The Post is claiming that Vanderbeek was able to combine the debt of the team with that of the team’s arena into one $160 million package, allowing him to remain in control of the organization.
Certainly, the resolution of the debt situation is much-needed good news for the team and the fans, but the deal, expected to be finalized shortly, will mean little to anyone if the players aren’t able to take the ice next month as scheduled.