From Parise to Bankruptcy; The New Jersey Devils Have Issues

It’s been just over a week since the New Jersey Devils lined up to shake hands with the Los Angeles Kings following a game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup Final. One would think the past week could have been spent remembering the successful regular season and improbable run towards another Stanley Cup. But, we all know by now, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to Jersey’s team and boy do they have issues.

Even before the Kings had a chance to get over their Cup party hangovers the reality of an off-season clouded in uncertainty loomed larger than life over the Garden State’s only true professional sports franchise.

How bad are the clubs finances? Would the team be able to bring back Zach Parise? Does Parise even want to come back? What about Martin Brodeur? And the list goes on and on and on.

There are so many story lines that will emerge as the weeks roll of. Here are just a few of them that are sure to highlight an eventful summer for the Devils.

The Parise Situation:

Questions about the future of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent and Devils captain Zach Parise began almost immediately after the teams embarrassing 6-1 loss in game 6 of the Cup Final. The 27-year-0ld calmly deflected questions about his future by simply stating he would like to return to New Jersey and would not be opposed to signing a new deal before the July 1 deadline. He further endeared himself to Devils fans by saying there was “no way” he would play for the hated New York Rangers.

Parise’s words sound promising, right? If your one of the countless members in a legion of Devils faithful you have to be feeling good about the chances of the captain re-signing, right?

Perhaps, but in all honesty, what is he supposed to say? He is still contracted by the Devils and he is simply playing the role of a good employee. He wasn’t about to give his current employer the one-fingered salute was he?

I know this won’t sit well with may Devils fans, but not many athletes have a chance to be the top unrestricted free agent in the entire league and that’s precisely what ZP is going to be.

There will be teams like the Minnesota Wild willing to outbid everybody for the services of their native son. Not to mention 28 other teams that could use a perennial 30-goal scorer and a notoriously hard worker with Stanley Cup experience. We don’t even know if the Devils are financially stable enough to pay their bills, forget adding another $7-8 million per year just for Parise. Now there are whispers of the Devils trying to perhaps trade away Parise’s rights just just to make sure they don’t lose him for nothing.

If New Jersey can’t retain his services what does that mean for the club in the long run? Hopefully we never have to find out.

The Financial Crisis: 

One of the more promising bits of news to develop during the Devils playoff run was that of team owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek finding a secret investor to help pay off the nearly $80 million dollars in defaulted loan payments to the  CIT Group Inc., the team’s lead lender, plus the 47 percent share of ownership that one of the Devils partners, Brick City ( Mike Gilfillan), wants to unload.  It was just the glimmer or good fortune fans had been hoping for after news broke during the regular season about the clubs increasingly rocky financial status.

(Note: I have been notified that Ray Chambers is no longer a co-owner of the Devils and hasn’t held any owning interest since 2004.)

The news was further bolstered by this statement from commissioner Gary Bettman, “Jeff Vanderbeek is working on both refinancing the debt on the club, and an equity raise. He appears to be fairly confident that he can pull this off in due course in the next few weeks. Since I’ve been in touch with the banks on a regular basis, we seem to be on track.”

However, it appears the NHL is running out of patience and would be willing to take control of the club until a potential buyer can be found to take over the team. The only problem with that is the Devils money situation is so bleak. New Jersey is believed to have close to $200 million in overall debt in addition to the $77 million already due this summer. Those figures alone are enough to scare off potential buyers and could force the club into bankruptcy before anybody would even think of taking a gamble with their money.

And this is just the beginning….

Other Free-Agent and Injuries: 

Besides Parise – Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg, Alex Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora, Bryce Salvador, Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta and Peter Harrold are all unrestricted free agents.  Defenseman Mark Fayne is the Devils lone restricted free agent.

That means of the 25 men on the playoff roster only 13 of them are under contract for the 2012-13 season. Looks like general manager Lou Lamoriello has more than enough work to do before the free agent season opens in less than two weeks.

One name that is likely to be back is 40-year-old Martin Brodeur. He mentioned several times that he would like to come back for at least another season. He did however leave the door open to possibly retiring when he said he would inform the team of his intentions by July 1st.

It’s unlikely he walk away especially after admitting this season was the most fun he’s had in years. It seems to me that he wants to see how the Parise talks are progressing. I doubt he would want to became a distraction, as he understands what Parise means to the Devils future.

Lamoriello also acknowledged that Ilya Kovalchuk was indeed playing hurt for most of the playoffs, but could not specify what the exact diagnosis was. “He played the whole playoffs. So, I have no knowledge of that. We’re certainly doing tests because he wasn’t 100 percent. That’s obvious and until all those tests come back, I can’t answer that.”

Whatever it is, let’s hope it is nothing that can’t be cured with rest and not something that will require any type of surgery. If it turns out that Kovalchuk does need an operation to correct the problem the short summer may not leave enough time for the Russian sniper to be 100% by training camp.

Not exactly the cherry we were hoping for to top off an otherwise exciting season. Stay tuned as things in Newark are about to get very, very interesting.

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