Thursday, August 15, 2013
New owners: Devils will win, and stay put
By Dylan Howlett
With the sale of the Devils to private equity executives Josh Harris and David Blitzer finalized, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the future of the team “has never been brighter.” But faced with pedestrian attendance numbers and a recently middling on-ice product, can Harris and Blitzer deliver on their promise to sustain the Devils’ “tradition of excellence?"
Here are three key takeaways from the sale of the Devils:
• In Lou they trust. Lou Lamoriello is not going anywhere. Harris and Blitzer both emphatically confirmed that the Devils’ general manager for the past 26 years will continue to oversee hockey operations. Blitzer joked during Thursday’s news conference that Lamoriello uses a “special sauce” to produce near-perennial contenders. “I think that everybody who follows hockey out there wants to know that special sauce,” Blitzer said. “He’s promised that he’ll give me a little.”
• Money men. The Devils are getting a war chest of capital to bankroll a competitive club. Harris’ personal worth is estimated at $2 billion and, buoyed by Blitzer’s abundance of riches as a Blackstone Group managing director, will give the Devils deeper coffers than the debt-riddled Jeff Vanderbeek could provide. Both spoke emphatically Thursday about their commitment to return the Devils to their glory days. “Everybody wants to win, but everybody doesn’t know how,” Lamoriello said of Harris and Blitzer. “I have 100 percent confidence that they know how and know how to do it the right way.” Under Vanderbeek’s stewardship, Lamoriello often scraped the salary-cap ceiling in spite of the team’s dwindling revenue. He had already committed $70 million of total salary to re-signings and offseason additions prior to the team’s sale. The new deep-pocketed ownership duo will give Lamoriello even more fiscal latitude to recruit marquee free agents and offer top dollar to homegrown talent.
• Jersey boys. Having guaranteed that the Devils will stay in Newark for the next quarter-century, Harris and Blitzer were quick to invoke their deep ties to New Jersey. Harris said he often visited his grandparents’ home in Newark, and Blitzer’s parents still live in the same Jersey home where Blitzer grew up. Blitzer said Thursday he wants Prudential Center -- a “world-class arena” -- to be “packed every single night.” But as former Devils owner Dr. John McMullen once lamented, the team still lives in the shadow of the Rangers. Add an impending incursion by the Brooklyn-bound Islanders and the Devils still face the same unenviable task of drawing crowds -- and spiking revenue -- in a crowded market.