NEWARK, N.J. — A person familiar with the negotiations says several groups are vying to buy the financially strapped New Jersey Devils, and a deal should be completed by the start of the NHL season.
The source spoke to The Associated Press Thursday and requested anonymity because the negotiations between Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek and the groups are still active.
Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris heads one group trying to buy the three-time Stanley Cup champions and Calgary billionaire Bill Gallacher is another, although the source said multiple groups are bidding on the deal that includes the operating rights to the Prudential Center.
The team will not relocate, the source said, adding that Vanberbeek will retain a minority ownership with the Devils.
The NHL said it has no interest in taking over the team, commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday after a new conference in New York to promote two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium. Earlier in the day, Forbes had reported that the league would likely take over the team in September unless a new owner was found.
“I haven’t seen the Forbes report, but if the suggestion is we’re going to take over the Devils, which is what I’ve heard the report says, it’s not accurate,” Bettman said a couple of hours later.
The NHL recently ran the Phoenix Coyotes for four years before finding a new owner.
Forbes reported the Devils have $230 million of debt and that Vanderbeek missed the first payment on a recently restructured bank loan. Vanderbeek seemingly was close to selling the package to a group headed by Philadelphia attorney Andrew Barroway, but the deal fell through.
The source said Barroway’s group, which has invested $30 million in the deal, is still in the mix but at this point it has been “outbid.”
Devils general manager and president Lou Lamoriello declined to comment on the negotiations.
“That’s one thing I stay away from,” Lamoriello said in a telephone conversation with The AP.
A former Devils season ticketholder since the 1980s, Vanderbeek became a minority owner of the Devils in 2000. He purchased the team and became its majority owner in 2004.
Vanderbeek was one of the leading proponents behind the building of the Prudential Center, which opened as the Devils’ home in 2007. The New Jersey Nets also played at the arena before moving into a new home in Brooklyn this past season.
The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and won additional Eastern Conference championships in 2001 and 2012. They missed the playoffs in the recent lockout-shortened season and were then stunned when 30-year-old superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk decided to play in his native Russia.
They moved to New Jersey in 1982, playing at the Meadowlands after relocating from Colorado.