The presence of Martin Brodeur brings some intrigue to an NHL free-agent market badly in need of it. His presence on the market is one more indication the New Jersey Devils’ financial condition is perilous, indeed. There is still no sign of the mystery investor Devils co-owner Jeff Vanderbeen has been promising, the saviour who will meet the Devils’ $77-million (all currency U.S.) looming loan payment on Aug. 14. This person is also supposed to pour enough money into the franchise to allow Vanderbeek to buy out co-owners Ray Chambers and his son-in-law, Mike Gilfallan and remain in control of the franchise.
Conversations with those in the financial and hockey communities reveals a great deal of skepticism about Vanderbeek’s chances. There are not many rich guys, these folks point out, who are willing to hand many millions of dollars over to someone who is already losing gobs of money without having the most say in how the new investment is spent. However, one investment type warned about counting Vanderbeek out: “He’s tenacious and he’s pulled rabbits out of the hat before.”
There are at least two groups interested in buying the Devils watching the situation closely but neither is interested in being any kind of partner of Vanderbeek. What they want is either for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to step in, seize the franchise under any number of NHL rules about paying your bills (the league has been advancing money to the Devils at least since January) or, most of all, for the team to wind up in bankruptcy, probably after the lenders seize it.
One source connected to one of the groups says the only way buying the Devils makes sense is if its massive debt (north of $200-million some think) is washed away by bankruptcy. Also part of that would be a new arena lease with the city of Newark that would be even more lucrative for the Devils than the current one. There is no danger of the team moving, by the way, at least not at present.
All of this means there is no money to sign Brodeur to a decent contract, let alone Zach Parise, the prize of the free-agent market.
However, despite his loyalty to the Devils and the fact he turned 40 two months ago, Brodeur wants to keep playing. He also would like to make much more than the league’s minimum salary of $525,000, not to mention any problems with his peers or the NHL Players’ Association should be accept a contract that is far less than market value for a certain Hall of Famer.
Among the teams taking an interest in Brodeur are three with similar situations that make him a good fit – the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. All three teams have up-and-coming youngsters at the position but would like a strong veteran around for at least one season to act as a bridge and mentor.
Two of those teams, the Panthers and Maple Leafs, make up the trade market for goaltender Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and both are sure to emphasize that to Canucks GM Mike Gillis. Gillis is still making noises about going to training camp with Luongo and the recently signed Cory Schneider if no one pays a big price for Luongo, although no one seems to have asked Luongo if he would be comfortable with that.
While the Leafs will need a veteran for more than a season to make certain James Reimer’s step back last season was an aberration and not a pattern, they certainly would be willing to take on Brodeur if he is amenable. Ditto for the Panthers, who have Jacob Markstrom as their up-and-coming star who may not be quite ready for the No. 1 job. Brodeur would be an upgrade on their present veteran, Jose Theodore.
The Lightning’s interest may not be overly strong on Brodeur since the plan is to make recent acquisition Anders Lindback their No. 1 goaltender. But, while the scouts are high on Lindback, 23, getting Brodeur for one year would allow the Lightning to break him in at a more sedate pace.