New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils
50 Route 120 North
East Rutherford, New Jersey 07073
Telephone: (201) 935-6050
Fax: (201) 935-2127
Web site: http://www.newjerseydevils.com
Founded: 1974 as Kansas City Scouts
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs
The New Jersey Devils, with offices in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is a professional ice hockey franchise of the National Hockey League (NHL). Woeful for many years, the Devils moved twice before establishing themselves as one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. Since 1995, the team has won the Stanley Cup, the league's championship trophy, three times. Despite its success on the ice, however, the Devils have not done well at the turnstiles, playing at the Continental Airlines Arena across the Hudson River from Manhattan, essentially in the shadow of the New York Rangers playing in venerable Madison Square Garden, one of the league's oldest teams with a strong fan base in northern New Jersey. To the south another rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, are well entrenched, so that the Devils are only able to command the loyalty of a fraction of New Jersey residents. Moreover, Devils' telecasts traditionally attract far fewer viewers than the Rangers or the other metropolitan team, the New York Islanders. The Devils struggled for years in their attempts to build a new arena, but finally succeeded in working out a deal with the state of New Jersey to build a new facility in Newark. Scheduled to open in time for the 2007–08 season, it is the first arena in the metropolitan area to be built in more than 25 years. An investment group, led by Jeffrey Vanderbeek, owns the club.
DEVILS START IN KANSAS CITY: 1974
The NHL, founded in 1917, was a six-team league following a shakeout during World War II, and remained so from 1943 until 1966, when the NHL expanded, adding six teams in a single stroke. The expansion of hockey continued in 1972 when Long Island and Atlanta were awarded teams. Then, in 1974 the league added another pair of teams, located in Washington and Kansas City. It was the Kansas City franchise that would one day find itself in northern New Jersey.
The Kansas City franchise was owned by an group of 37 investors, headed by real estate mogul Edwin Thompson and including Hank Stram, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs football team. In order to appeal to both Missouri and Kansas residents, the owners planned to call the team the "Mo-Hawks": "Mo" for Missouri, and "Hawk" for "Jayhawks," the nickname for Kansans. When the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks objected, the team had to turn to a second choice, Scouts, a reference to a famous statue in the city. Kansas City had long been a minor league hockey town, but the team offered area fans little to be excited about. At the time, the World Hockey League, was challenging the NHL, so available talent was greatly diluted and the Scouts had few quality players. Moreover, because the team's home, Kemper Arena, was hosting the American Royal Rodeo and Livestock Show, the team was forced to play its first nine games on the road, managing only to record a single tie, so that the team was well entrenched in last place by the time their new fans were able to see them. The Scouts fared better than their fellow newcomers, the Washington Capitals, in the standings, but that afforded cold comfort. The team's second season was worse than the first, as the Scouts suffered through a 27-game losing streak and attendance crumbled. With rumors spreading that the team might move to another city, the ownership group launched a season ticket drive, with the goal of selling 8,000 season tickets. With only about 2,000 seats sold, the effort fell far short of the mark. Some $900,000 in debt, the owners elected to cut their losses and the team was sold and moved to Denver, which had just lost a World Hockey League franchise. The Scouts became known as the Rockies.
The Rockies were majority owned by Jack Vickers, a native Coloradoan who had made his fortune investing in oil, gas, and minerals, as well as real estate and the stock market. He was also an active sportsman. Unfortunately, he acquired the team in August 1976, leaving little time to mount a season ticket drive. Colorado sports fans were offered a last place team, and while in a different year the novelty of a new team would have carried some weight, this was to be the year of the "Orange Crush," in Denver, when the Denver Broncos football team advanced to the Super Bowl and the team's every exploit dominated the sports media and the conversation of fans. Another last place finish for the hockey franchise did little to endear the Rockies to the city. The following year, the Rockies showed a great deal of improvement and actually made the playoffs, although they were quickly dispatched in the preliminary round.
TEAM SOLD TO NEW JERSEY BUSINESSMAN: 1978
Vickers was not pleased with the terms of the Rockies' lease with the city of Denver for the McNichols Sports Arena, which denied the team any revenue from parking, concessions, or advertising inside the arena. Unable to reach an accommodation with local officials he sold the team in 1978 to New Jersey trucking magnate Arthur Imperatore, who impetuously announced that he wanted to move the team to his home state. The Meadowlands was in the process of building what would become the Continental Airlines Arena, but it was not scheduled to open for another two years. Imperatore hoped to play in Madison Square Garden until the new arena was ready, but the Garden did not have enough open dates to accommodate the hockey team and he had to agree to stay in Colorado. His plan to move the team to the East was far from a foregone conclusion, in any case. He needed a unanimous vote of all 17 NHL owners, and Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers was adamantly opposed to placing a fourth team in a 130-mile area. "They can sell it to the moon, but not to the Meadowlands," Snider told the New York Times.
Knowing that the owner was eager to relocate did not endear Colorado sports fans to the Rockies, nor did the play of the team engender much interest. The club resumed its habit of missing the playoffs each spring. Imperatore soon gave up on his quest to move the Rockies to the Meadowlands, selling the team in February 1981 to Peter Gilbert, a Buffalo cable television system owner. By this time the new Meadowlands' arena was open and looking for a hockey tenant, attracting the interest of the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, as well as the New York Rangers, who were attempting to renegotiate their lease with the City of New York at Madison Square Garden. Like Imperatore, Gilbert encountered obstacles to moving the franchise to New Jersey and entertained alternate notions of relocating the Rockies to Ottawa, selling the team to a group that wanted to keep it in Denver, or even disbanding the team and selling the player contracts.
Building a perennial Stanley Cup contender—a team that is worthy of representing New Jersey—has always been a top priority. Not as obvious, but just as important, is establishing programs to help build a strong community. It is a goal that is achieved through the combined efforts of the New Jersey Devils, our alumni association, and the Devils Foundation.
MOVING TO THE MEADOWLANDS: 1982
In the end, the NHL agreed to the move of the Rockies to New Jersey in time for the start of the 1982–83 season, in conjunction with Gilbert selling the team to a group of investors headed by John McMullen. A career naval officer, McMullen had launched a successful marine engineering company after retiring from the service in 1954. In the early 1970s he became involved in sports when he became a limited partner in the group headed by George Steinbrenner that bought the New York Yankees baseball team. In 1979 he took the reins of a baseball team himself, acquiring the Houston Astros. His partners in the Rockies' purchase included John C. Whitehead, a senior partner with the investment firm of Goldman, Sachs & Company, and Brendan T. Byrne, a former governor of New Jersey who was practicing law. The Meadowlands' arena that would house the club was called the Brendan Byrne Arena until the naming rights were sold to Continental Airlines in 1996. All told, Mc-Mullen's group paid $30 million: $8.7 million to Gilbert for the team, a $10 million transfer fee to the NHL, and $12.5 million in indemnification fees split between the Islanders, Rangers, and Flyers.
McMullen talked about changing the Rockies name to the "Meadowlanders," but he admitted that even his family did not him agree with him. What was certain, however, was that the team's name would include "New Jersey" or "Garden State," as stipulated by the arena lease. A contest was conducted to name the team and the result was the New Jersey Devils, an allusion to a legendary monster, the Jersey Devil, that supposedly lived in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey.
McMullen believed that area sports fans would be patient as the new owners attempted to field a competitive team, perhaps granting them four seasons before becoming disgruntled. The Devils would certainly test their patience as the change in locale did nothing to improve the team's place in the standings. The low point was reached in the second season at the Meadowlands when the Devils were defeated 13–4 by the Edmonton Oilers, led by superstar Wayne Gretzky, who scored three goals and posted five assists. After the game Gretzky made headlines when he declared it was time the Devils got "its act together. They're ruining the whole league. They had better stop running a Mickey Mouse operation." Being called out by the most famous hockey player in the world had its effect and in short order the Devils' general manager was fired. Little else changed, however, as the team continued its history of missing the playoffs.
- The National Hockey League (NHL) expands by two franchises, including a team in Kansas City known as the Scouts.
- The Scouts are sold and the team moves to Denver, Colorado, where it is renamed the Rockies.
- New Jersey businessman Arthur Imperatore buys the team but is prevented from moving it to his home state.
- Imperatore sells the Rockies to Peter Gilbert, of Buffalo, New York, who also encounters obstacles in moving the team to the Meadowlands arena in New Jersey.
- An investment group headed by John Mc-Mullen purchases and moves the team, which is renamed the New Jersey Devils.
- After many unsuccessful seasons, the Devils reach the NHL playoffs for the first time.
- The Devils win their first Stanley Cup.
- The team wins a second Stanley Cup and is sold to a subsidiary of the New York Yankees baseball club.
- The New Jersey Devils win a third Stanley Cup.
- The team is sold to Jeffrey Vanderbeek, who finalizes a deal with the city of Newark to build a new arena.
The turning point for the quest to turn the Devils into a winning club came in April 1987 when McMullen brought in a new president, hiring Lou Lamoriello, a former college coach who successfully built up the hockey program at Providence College and in 1983 became commissioner of the Hockey East college conference. Lamoriello also became general manager of the Devils and quickly went to work restructuring the club from the bottom up. In mid-season, January 1988, he fired his coach and brought in former player Jim Schoenfeld to lead the team. The Devils began winning and on the last day of the season, on an overtime goal, secured a place in the playoffs after nine consecutive seasons of missing out on postseason play. The team then made an unexpected run, ousting the first-place Islanders and the Washington Capitals. The Devils lost to the Boston Bruins in the conference finals but not before becoming involved in one of the more bizarre controversies in NHL history. In an encounter that ended in the hallway to the dressing rooms after the third game of the series, Schoenfeld verbally abused referee Don Koharski, calling him a "fat pig" and telling him to "have another doughnut." Schoenfeld then either shoved Koharski or, as he claimed, slipped and fell into him. No matter, Schoenfeld was suspended. The New Jersey Devils went to court to receive a temporary restraining order pending a league hearing and Schoenfeld was once again behind the bench for game four. The NHL officials, however, refused to work the game. The league scrambled to suit up three off-ice officials to take over, two of them wearing yellow practice jerseys until striped shirts could be found. After a delay of more than an hour the game began, and by all accounts the improvised officials did a credible job of officiating the game, which the Devils won 3–1.
FIRST STANLEY CUP: 1995
Despite the Devils sudden success, they missed the playoffs again in the 1988–89 season. The team continued to upgrade its personnel but the next step in the rise of the Devils to championship caliber occurred in June 1993 when Lamoriello hired Jacques Lemaire to coach the team. Having won eight Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, Lemaire, along with former teammate Larry Robinson, was used to winning and accepted nothing less. During his first year at the helm, the Devils, sparked by the play of rookie goalie Martin Brodeur, reached the conference finals, finally losing to the New York Rangers in double-overtime in the seventh game. The Devils had clearly turned the corner, and were no longer regarded as a Mickey Mouse team. Two years later in 1995 the team reached the pinnacle of the hockey world, winning its first Stanley Cup.
After winning the Cup, McMullen wasted no time in attempting to improve the Devils 30-year lease at the Meadowlands, threatening to move to Nashville. After some difficult negotiations a new lease was worked out, one that was shortened as well as sweetened. But the Devils were not especially happy with the arena, which paled in comparison to a new generation of facilities opening around the country. The Continental Airlines Arena was cold and cavernous, and lacking in the rings of luxury suites that produced the extra revenue hockey and basketball teams had come to depend upon. Moreover, it was located in the middle of swampland, making it difficult to enjoy any semblance of civic pride. A victory parade through the Meadowlands' parking lot to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup hardly compared to the Rangers jaunt through Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes the previous spring.
The team was a consistent challenger for the Stanley Cup but it had difficulty translating that success into a strong gate and high television ratings. Attendance peaked at more than 17,000 a game for the Devils during the 1997–98 season, but sellouts were difficult to attain and attendance dipped to less than 16,000 in an arena that seated more than 19,000. To make matters worse, the media was more interested in writing about the Rangers' problems than the Devil's successes. In 2000 the team won its second Stanley Cup and was sold.
McMullen had been clamoring for a new arena for the Devils and had contemplated building one in Hoboken. In the meantime, the New Jersey Nets basketball team, owned by the New York Yankees, was making an effort to build an arena in downtown Newark. The state was willing to support the funding of only one arena and the Newark proposal was the one that finally gained traction, especially after YankeeNets bought the Devils for $175 million through a subsidiary called Puck Holdings. The Yankees were planning to launch their own cable sports channel and had acquired the Nets and the Devils to provide programming during baseball's off-season.
Despite having the heft of the Yankees behind a new arena, plus the improved play of the Nets and the consistent success of the Devils, the project floundered in the state's legislature, where politicians made demands for money to support pet projects in their own districts. While the maneuvering continued, the Devils won their third Stanley Cup in the spring of 2003. The team lost in the conference quarterfinals the following year, after which the NHL lost an entire season due to a labor impasse.
YankeeNets and the its YES sports cable network soon discovered that it had no difficulty in finding other fare to replace the Devils on television, programming that received ratings comparable to or better than those credited to the Devils. Thus, the team was considered expendable. Before the 2003–04 season came to a close the team was sold to Jeffrey Vanderbeek for $125 million, $51 million less than what Puck Holdings had paid. Vanderbeek then resigned from his post at Lehman Brothers to run the club. He succeeded in gaining final approval for a new arena from the Newark city council in October 2004. The Devils put up $100 million and the public contributed another $210 million to finance the project. There were some last minute complications that threatened to scuttle the deal, but ground was broken and the new arena began to take shape.
The NHL finally reached a settlement with the players. A salary cap was imposed, bringing some financial certainty to the hockey business, but the league had also lost fans as well as its television contract with ESPN. The Devils made plans to move into their new arena at the start of the 2007–08 season. Whether they would draw more customers in Newark and expand their fan base remained to be seen, however.
Lowell Devils; Trenton Titans.
New York Islanders; New York Rangers; Philadelphia Flyers.
Brennan, John, "New Jersey Devils to Kick in $100 Million for New Arena," Record (Hackensack, N.J.), May 5, 2004.
Clarity, James F., "Rockies Eye Move to Jersey," New York Times, December 8, 1981.
Diamond, Dan, et al., Total Hockey, Kingston, N.Y.: Total Sports, 1998, 1,878 p.
Goldpaper, Sam, "Shift of Rockies to Jersey Faces Snags," New York Times, July 1, 1978.
Jacobs, Andrew, "Agreement Reached to Build a Downtown Sports Arena for Newark," New York Times, April 6, 2000.
Mifflin, Lawrie, "N.H.L. Puts off Decision on the Rockies' Move to New Jersey," New York Times, May 20, 1982.
——, "Prideful New Jersey Adopts a Franchise," New York Times, May 29, 1982.
——, "Rockies Are Sold and Moved to Meadowlands," New York Times, May 28, 1982.
Ozanian, Michael K., "Ice Capades," Forbes, November 29, 2004.
Purdy, Matthew, "Our Towns: In New Jersey Politics the Arena Is the Football," New York Times, September 9, 2001.
Sandomir, Richard, "An Arena, and Hope, Takes Shape in Newark," New York Times, May 12, 2006.
——, "Devils Not Considered a TV Draw," New York Times, April 13, 2001.