New Jersey Devils controlling owner Jeffery Vanderbeek, who skated through some tough financial issues in the last year, appears to be heading into some open ice.
The 54-year-old former Lehman Brothers executive is close to sewing up a deal with a deep-pocketed investor, the New York Post has learned.
The Devils are "very close" to a deal in which a new investor will pay down the company's $80 million in overdue debt and give Vanderbeek until the start of next season to raise new capital.
But the financial lifeline comes with strings attached, these sources said. If Vanderbeek cannot line up additional capital by the fall, he would be forced to sell the team, sources said.
The mystery investor already exchanged term sheets with the lending group and Vanderbeek, a source said.
For the last several months, the National Hockey League has funded Devils operations -- advancing the team almost $10 million against future revenue.
It has become clear that the future of the Devils franchise is at stake if it cannot quickly arrive at a solution.
The new investor would contractually force Vanderbeek, if he does not raise significant additional money by the start of next season, to sell the team, sources said.
"This could be a bridge to a sale," a source familiar with the situation said.
The Devils' off-ice financial picture is improving just as the team's on-ice play has picked up.
They have the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference, behind the Rangers, and appear well on their way to postseason play.
But the amount of money Vanderbeek needs in order to fully rescue him from his quagmire is more than the team would ring up -- even if it went deep into the playoffs, sources said.
Vanderbeek is working with little-known investment bank Three Ocean Partners to raise new equity and is pretty far along, a source said.
The Devils were unavailable for comment.
Devils creditors, under NHL rules, only have another few weeks to put the Devils in default if they plan to force them into bankruptcy during the off-season, sources said. Under NHL rules, creditors must wait 180 days after placing a team in default to force a bankruptcy and cannot do it during the season.
That gives lenders only a short time to act before their hands are tied for the 2012-13 campaign (180 days after April would be during next season).
The Devils have seemed close to a financing solution before.
Vanderbeek, in November, working with Goldman Sachs, tried to raise $80 million by securitizing the Devils' long-term TV deal with the MSG Network. However, it failed.
Previously, the company that co-owns the team, Brick City, offered to pay creditors $24.5 million in exchange for giving up its 47 percent ownership to Vanderbeek and being freed from having to fund losses. That, too, was iced.