Nearly three weeks ago, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media before the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. The topic at hand? The tenuous financial situation of the New Jersey Devils. At the time, the team was on an unexpected run to the Finals, a feel-good story that ended two wins short of the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup. There was, it appeared, reason for optimism both on and off the ice.
“The New Jersey situation, as we understand it at its most up to date point, is that the club and Jeff Vanderbeek is working on both refinancing the debt on the club and equity raise,” Bettman said during the May 30 interview. “He appears to be fully confident that he can pull this off in due course in the next few weeks.” Before the interview ended, Bettman also added, “I’ve been in touch with the banks on a regular basis. They seem to be on track.”
In the 19 days since the Commissioner made those statements, something has apparently changed. The New York Post reported today that Bettman is preparing to take control of the franchise if owner Jeff Vanderbeek cannot refinance the estimated $77 million past due debt the team has incurred by August 14.
Vanderbeek, who Newark Mayor Cory Booker famously called a “highfalutin, high-class huckster and hustler” who came to Newark with “a mouthful of promises, but a pocket full of lies,” has repeatedly insisted that he is in the process of refinancing the team’s debt since the club missed a September 1 loan payment. His co-owner, Ray Chambers, has been actively trying to sell his estimated 47% stake in the team, adding to the chaos.
According to the Post report, Vanderbeek also has the option of placing the team in bankruptcy in order to buy more time to arrange a restructuring plan.
It’s also worth noting that the NHL has denied that they are preparing to take over the Devils.
“I don’t anticipate either the league having to take over the team, or the team having to file for bankruptcy,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told USA TODAY Sports via email.
Bankruptcy. Restructuring. Debt. Takeover. Harsh, frightening words. Despite the underdog, heartwarming playoff run the team made on the ice this season, there doesn’t seem to be a happy ending on the horizon for the Devils financial woes.
**** Update on the current ownership:
Statement from Brick City Hockey LLC:
Recent media reports about the New Jersey Devils have inaccurately described the ownership structure of that franchise. To clarify, the franchise is owned primarily by two entities, Hilltopper LLC owned by Jeff Vanderbeek and Brick City owned by Michael Gilfillan. Jeff Vanderbeek is the managing partner. Michael Gilfillan holds no position with the franchise or its related entities. In his capacity as managing partner, Jeff Vanderbeek has been, and continues to be responsible for overseeing the day to day business of the Devils including dealing with the Devils’ creditors. Ray Chambers has been mischaracterized in several media reports as having an ownership interest in the Devils. He has not held such an interest since Mr. Vanderbeek became the managing partner in 2004.