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[The Fourth Period] Devils down to final option

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AUGUST 8, 2013 | 12:20PM ET

Despite being in serious debt, there might be some light at the end of the New Jersey Devils' tunnel.

TORONTO, ON -- I hate to say "I told you so," but... I told you!

And if you're a New Jersey Devils fans, I can definitely understand your reluctance to view what we have been reporting for over a year as truth. But it's time to open your eyes.

Earlier today, Forbes reported the NHL is expected to take over the operations of the Devils' franchise around the start of the season if a buyer doesn't step up and purchase the team.

According to multiple sources, the League had already been managing the franchise from a distance -- something we reported almost two months ago.

The Devils are approximately $230 million in debt, and Forbes claims owner Jeff Vanderbeek missed the first payment on his bank load.

We first reported back in August of 2012 that the Devils were fishing for new ownership. At the time, Calgary billionaire Bill Gallacher, who owns the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL and tried to buy the Dallas Stars before Tom Gagliardi got a hold of them, was in the mix -- and that's been confirmed multiple times by NHL sources.

As the months passed, however, Gallacher and his group grew impatient, and only a few months ago withdrew from the biddings.

On June 28, when we first reported the NHL was overseeing the club's operations, we also reported that two groups were in the hunt of the Devils: one group led by local attorney Andrew Barroway, who had loaned Vanderbeek $30 million; and the other led by "some deep pockets on the U.S. West Coast that have much experience managing sports franchises."

According to Forbes, Barroway "withdrew his offer within the past two weeks after getting a closer look at the team's books."

The other group, which we can confirm is led by one of Gallacher's business associates, Ken Stickney, President of Avenir Sports Entertainment, which owns and operates several minor-league sports franchises and has offices in Las Vegas and Portland, also appears to have trailed off.

By my count, that leaves one group still in the running.

In a report first made public by Howard Eskin of WIP radio in Philadelphia, Josh Harris, one of the owners of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, has also been trying to purchase the Devils.

Harris, whose group bought the 76ers from Comcast Spectator for approximately $280 million two years ago, is reportedly worth more than $2 billion.

Many within the NHL believe the Devils' current state is far worse than that of the Phoenix Coyotes' recent state. As reported on June 28, and confirmed by both NHL and NHLPA sources, some Devils' players received late or missed payments, though they were always compensated (eventually).

On June 26, the NHLPA sent out a note to its membership concerning the state of the team, and informed them that they were monitoring the situations of both the Devils and Coyotes. A second memo was sent on June 27.

Many had thought (myself included) the Devils would be closer to a new owner by now, though a source close to the situation told me late this morning that something can still transpire "within the next few days."

Harris, according to Eskin, met with Vanderbeek on Aug. 1 to work out an offer for the Devils. Harris and Vanderbeek worked together at Lehman Brothers, a global financial firm.

As talks progress, one thing is certain: Vanderbeek, who will presumably stay on board as a minority owner of the franchise, has left this team in one giant mess.

The Devils lost their offensive superstar in Ilya Kovalchuk -- for a variety of reasons, according to a source, not solely for his desire to play in Russia. Martin Brodeur is presumably set to begin his final NHL season. They spent way too much money on Ryane Clowe.

It's been blatantly obvious that the Devils' franchise is arguably the worst in the NHL when it comes to marketing its team and its players (and getting butts in the seats). With one easily marketable name back in Russia, and another nearing the end of the road, whoever takes over this organization will have to hire one heck of a marketing team to rebuild this club's public image -- I'm not talking about you diehards, I'm talking about attract the casual fan to the Prudential Center.

The NHL hopes to have this matter is resolved as soon as possible, but they've already taken action on their backup plan. The Devils aren't going anywhere, that much is clear. So in the event Harris' group falls through, if you know anyone with a few hundred million dollars to spare, and you like the Newark/New York area, give the League a call.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine.

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