Jeff Vanderbeek, center, was the face of ownership. Now he's the sole owner. Aside: Note the boss jersey on the far left. - Bruce Bennett
The New Jersey Devils ownership issues are resolved for now. Jeff Vanderbeek is now the complete owner of the organization and the refinancing of part of the team's debt has been completed. This post contains some initial thoughts on this substantial news.
As you may know by now, there was some big news for the New Jersey Devils today. Jeff Vanderbeek is now the sole owner of the New Jersey Devils. That's right, Vanderbeek is now the owner. As Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice earlier today, Vanderbeek completely bought out the Mike Gilfillan and Ray Chambers-run Brick City Hockey's share of 47% and Peter Simon's 6% for complete ownership. On top of that, the refinancing of part of their overall debt has been completed. The news is so big; the team released an official statement to the media, to their season ticket holders by email, and on their official website.
It's definitely good news. One of the loose ends involving the team for the last year or so has been finally sewn up. The rift between Vanderbeek and Brick City is over. No new ownership partners were brought in. The team didn't go into bankruptcy. Part of the team's debt is refinanced, which I presume is to the team's advantage. There's now one owner for the Devils organization and the Prudential Center. It's not Nelson Peltz, it's not Bill Gallacher, and it isn't someone else no one really knows. It's Jeff Vanderbeek, who clearly had the funds to take over full ownership of the team and the arena. Surely, the Devils' playoff run into the Stanley Cup Finals along with several high-profile events helped the process along.
The only big issue regarding ownership from my perspective now should be whether Vanderbeek will continue to make funds available for the team. The Devils obviously cut down in player salary over the last two seasons. They went from a cap-ceiling team in 2010-11 at just under $64 million (highest cap hit in the league) to a little over $56 million currently on the books (ahead of nine teams from the lowest cap in the league) for 2012-13. The next offseason will feature seven unrestricted free agents including Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac and two notable restricted free agents in Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique. I can understand the team operating on some budget, but I don't want the team to be forced to do everything relatively cheaply. Jeff Vanderbeek definitely has the juice, we should hope he's got more bread to share. We'll only find out when we it does (or doesn't) happen.
Additionally, one could also wonder whether Prudential Center will remain a premier venue for years to come. If you figure the arena makes up the financial difference with the Devils, be it a loss or a minor profit, then it's going to be on DAE to continue to bring in popular acts and events. The Rock remains great for concerts and sporting events, but it's also no longer a new place. They'll have to work to keep it well maintained and fresh for new and old visitors alike. I'd like to think this will be easier to achieve than what happens with the Devils; but, I'm also not at all knowledgeable of how arena management truly operates, so don't quote me on that. (As an aside, the Devils marketing staff really should push ahead on getting newcomers and casual fans to come to games if only to sell them on the venue as well as the team.)
Lastly, there is the matter of the debt. While about $78 million has been refinanced per Gulitti's report, there is still a debt. It will eventually have to be addressed, and it could create an issue in the future if it remains or grows. I'm assuming the successful refinance of this part will help in the short-term; otherwise, I'm not sure why it was done at all. How it will be addressed will depend on how well the team does financially, how well the arena does in terms of bringing in revenue, and whether Vanderbeek has enough cash to pay it down or can bring in a partner to help.
Regardless, I'm pleased that Jeff Vanderbeek is in control. His full control of both the team and Devils Arena Management (which runs the Prudential Center) will definitely secure the team's place in one of the finest arenas in the area, if not the nation. He's been a supporter of the team for such a long time that there's little reason to believe he wouldn't want the team to remain competitive. There's a sense of stability that comes with this news, one less thing to worry about for now. Again, as long as he can continue to provide significant funding for the team; the Rock can still, um, rock; and the debt doesn't become a problem, then this will remain good news.
At the risk of reading too much into it, the news makes me more confident that we'll actually have a 2012-13 season. Vanderbeek becoming the full owner of the Devils and refinancing the debt is definitely news. However, a full statement was released publicly not only to the media but also to the fans. I would think that if the lockout was intended to be carried out through the season, then there wouldn't be a need to do all this before it was absolutely necessary and then issue a public declaration. The lack of NHL hockey means fewer dates at the arena, but it also saves on team expenses. Moreover, these moves could have been made - and reported - relatively quietly. Closing the ownership issue and taking initiative to announce it would matter more if there would be Devils hockey in the future. Call it a giant tea leaf, for lack of a better phrase. Again, I could be reading too much into the lines so take it with a grain of salt. The news should be welcomed by Devils fans all the same.
That's my take, but do you agree that this is good news for the Devils? Are you glad that Jeff Vanderbeek is in full control of the Devils and Devils Arena Management? Do you think he'll be able to provide the funds necessary for future seasons? What do you make of the public statement? Are you waiting for Josh Kosman's take? Well, don't hold your breath on the last one. Please leave your other answers and other thoughts about today's ownership news in the comments. Thanks for reading.