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New Devils ownership to focus on business side

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- The keys to the New Jersey Devils officially have been handed to a group of businessmen determined to re-energize the franchise without meddling with the on-ice product put together by longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Joshua Harris and David Blitzer, University of Pennsylvania graduates who have made their fortunes in the private-equity business, completed their purchase of the Devils from outgoing chairman and managing partner Jeffrey Vanderbeek on Thursday. The purchase includes the team's long-term operating interest in Prudential Center and other related interests.

Harris and Blitzer also are the managing owner and co-managing owner, respectively, of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise they purchased for $280 million in 2011. They would not reveal the price they paid for the Devils.

Vanderbeek, who helped get Prudential Center built in downtown Newark, will stay on as a senior adviser.

"We are in it to win it," said Harris, whose net worth is estimated at $2.1 billion, according to Forbes. "This is about building a long-term winner in Jersey and winning Stanley Cups. Obviously sports are super-unpredictable, but the history here is clear, and so all we need to do is not mess it up. But we're going to try to be innovative."

In addition to leaving Lamoriello in place as the person in charge of the day-to-day hockey operations, Harris and Blitzer named former Madison Square Garden executive Scott O'Neil as Devils chief executive officer, placing him in charge of business operations and Prudential Center.

O'Neil works for Harris and Blitzer as the CEO in charge of business operations for the 76ers. He took on that position last month and said he plans to divide his time between Newark and Philadelphia. He recently purchased a home in Westchester, Pa.

O'Neil has known Lamoriello for close to a decade through his previous role as president of Madison Square Garden Sports.

"What makes them [Harris and Blitzer] special, and what attracts me to working for folks like them, is the integrity and character screams when you get to know them," O'Neil said. "They're family guys. They're very successful, and that's no surprise. But do they have the resources? Do they want to win? That's what you want to know when you work in this business: How important is it? They are competitive and they want to win and they have the resources to win."

Lamoriello, who has been with the Devils for 26 years, said he didn't know Harris or Blitzer until last week but has spent a lot of time with them since then and came away convinced he will be given the tools to put a winning team together.

"Something that was my major question was, did they really know what was necessary to win and what it took?" Lamoriello said. "Everybody wants to win, but not everybody knows how. I felt 100-percent comfortable they know how and in the right way. They're creative, they're intuitive and they want to try to get an edge in any way they can. I was comfortable with that and I am just honored to be here today."

Blitzer said he hopes Lamoriello, who will be 71 in October, stays with the franchise for as long as he wants to.

"This team has stood for excellence and we want to continue the excellence, so we don't want to fiddle in what Lou and his staff have done incredibly well for their entire careers," Blitzer said. "I think the New Jersey Devils are the envy of 99 percent of the NHL from the standpoint of their performance on the ice. We don't really want to change that."

What they want to do is build the Devils and Prudential Center on the business side through corporate sponsors, ticket sales and filling the venue on a year-round basis with concerts and family shows. They also want to continue to work with the city of Newark to help the revitalization process that is ongoing in the city and has been aided by the presence of Prudential Center, which opened in October 2007.

"We do think that sports is a platform to leave the world a better place," Harris said. "We're big believers in that, and obviously that's more than just selling tickets and winning on the ice, although that means a lot. It also means getting involved in the community and we expect to do that. We do it in Philly with the Sixers and we'll do it here."

The new owners shot down any notion they could look to move the 76ers to Newark. O'Neil said he would prefer to keep the Devils as the main team in Prudential Center in order to keep more dates open for other forms of entertainment.

The 76ers are tenants at Wells Fargo Center, which is owned and operated by Comcast-Spectacor, the company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers. As a result, Harris and Blitzer can't control what other acts come to play in that building. They can do that now with Prudential Center.

"When you have an arena and a team, you have more flexibility in terms of the fan experience than you do as a tenant," Harris said. "Here we'll have more control, and clearly you have to think about things like booking the arena with concerts and other events that you don't have to think about if you just own a basketball team."

Vanderbeek called it a bittersweet day because the Devils were his passion. He would have preferred to keep the team but could not do it financially and was unable to bring in minority partners to help him.

"I wouldn't be human if I didn't have mixed emotions," Vanderbeek said. "At the same token, this is an exciting day. There are going to be great things going forward. This is certainly going to solidify the Devils' franchise in New Jersey for as far as the eye can see, which was always my goal. This was the right next owner. I'm convinced they have what it takes."


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