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Is New Jersey Devils Takeover By NHL Coming?

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The Devils' picture isn't pretty -- owner Jeff Vanderbeek is scrambling to cinch up the team's debt.
The Devils' picture isn't pretty -- owner Jeff Vanderbeek is scrambling to cinch up the team's debt.

At best, the NHL's New Jersey Devils franchise has serious cash-flow problems. At worst, it could be taken over by the league if owner Jeff Vanderbeek can't get his team's financial house in order.

After the New York Post reported that the league would seize the team if Vanderbeek couldn't sell a majority stake in the club to pay back $77 million in debt, the NHL denied the possibility to USA Today on Tuesday. "I don't anticipate either the league having to take over the team, or the team having to file for bankruptcy," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the newspaper.

If the Post's version is true, it wouldn't be the first time an NHL team has been run by the league. The NHL has owned the Phoenix Coyotes for the last three years.

Despite a season that led to the Stanley Cup finals, where the team lost to the Los Angeles Kings, the Devils ranked in the bottom third in home attendance at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. In 2010, the team signed Ilya Kovalchuk to an onerous 15-year, $100 million contract. The team's precarious situation could prevent the Devils from signing many of their unrestricted free agents, USA Today said.

The Post reported that the league had given Vanderbeek an Aug. 14 deadline to stabilize the team or the league would push aside Vanderbeek, a former Lehman Brothers bigwig, and entertain offers from potential buyers. The story also said the Devils were considering bankruptcy.

Adding to the drama is the friction between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Vanderbeek. The mayor recently called Vanderbeek a hustler and huckster when the city was hit with a bill for $600,000 and forced to give up millions in parking revenue as a result of its arena deal with the team, according to reports. He also accused the owner of reneging on promises to support city youth programs. Vanderbeek countered that he wished he'd never moved the team to Newark.

If the Devils franchise is taken over by the league, both parties will have a lot more to worry about than a public feud.