Sale of New Jersey Devils Would Be Another Important Step Forward for NHL

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2013

If the sale of the New Jersey Devils is approved, general manager Lou Lamoriello should have plenty of opportunities to smile.
If the sale of the New Jersey Devils is approved, general manager Lou Lamoriello should have plenty of opportunities to smile.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL got rid of one headache when a new ownership group emerged at the last minute and saved the Phoenix Coyotes.

The NHL had run the franchise for four years until Renaissance Sports & Entertainment bought the team from the league and secured a new arena deal in Glendale, Ariz.

Just as the Phoenix drama reached its climactic moment, it appeared the NHL was about to face a similar situation with the New Jersey Devils. Owner Jeff Vanderbeek was financially strapped and if a new owner could not be found, the NHL might have been forced to step in and prop up the franchise.

It looks like Joshua Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers owner, could purchase the franchise within days, according to a report by Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.

If the NHL's Board of Governors approves the deal—and there are no indications of any stumbling blocks at this time—Harris will rid the team of its massive $200 million debt.

That will be fantastic news for the franchise, and it will give general manager Lou Lamoriello the opportunity to make the moves needed to get this franchise back into contention in the Eastern Conference.

Lamoriello has long been considered one of the best franchise stewards in the league, and the Devils competed for the Stanley Cup as recently as the 2011-12 season. However, the team's financial problems may have played at least some role in the decision of Zach Parise to leave in 2012, and they did not help the Devils in the current offseason.

The NHL had a boatload of problems to contend with a year ago. A ruinous lockout was about to begin, the Coyotes problems were reaching a head and the Devils issues were getting worse.

If the Devils' sale to the well-heeled Harris go as expected, the NHL could be ready for a banner year.

In addition to having a full season, complete with a training camp that begins in September and a regular season that will kick off the following month, the NHL also expects to get a boost from its participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

In the past, Olympic hockey has proven to be a consistent ratings getter on television, and the NHL is probably hoping for the kind of finish to the hockey competition that it had in 2010 in Vancouver when Canada beat the United States in the gold medal game on a Sidney Crosby overtime goal.

Those kind of moments help the game grow. Since that moment, the NHL and NBC signed a 10-year, $2 billion television contract. While that money does not compare with what Major League Baseball and the NBA get from television—and is not even close to the NFL's neighborhood—it's a huge jump for the NHL.

The NHL is also attempting to turn its unique Winter Classic outdoor hockey extravaganza into a big-time moneymaker this season.

Instead of playing one outdoor game at a baseball or football stadium on New Year's Day, the NHL is playing six outdoor games this year.

In addition to contesting a game at huge Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs Jan. 1, the NHL will also hold outdoor games in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver. The Sports Xchange (through reported that each game is valued at $30 million, meaning the six games will bring in $180 million this year.

The lockout produced a deal with the NHL Players Association that is considered quite favorable to the owners. Players' salaries cannot exceed $64.3 million (per team) in 2013-14, a significant reduction from the $70.2 million that was paid last year on a prorated basis in the lockout-shortened season.

So, the NHL appears to be in a strong position for a much better future—as long as the Devils' sale goes through and the new ownership can rid the team of its choking debt.