A new chapter began today in the National Hockey League's version of the Rockies horror show.
A daylong meeting of the league's board of governors resulted in the sale of the Colorado Rockies to John McMullen, chairman of the board of the Houston Astros, and the transfer of the team to the Meadowlands arena in East Rutherford, N.J. Although no figures were divulged, sources said the move could cost McMullen's group more than $30 million, including a reported $8.8 million purchase price, indemnification fees to three teams with territorial rights that include the Meadowlands, and other fees.
The Meadowlands team, which has no new nickname yet, will compete in the Patrick Division, comprising the New York Rangers and Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. The Winnipeg Jets move from the Norris Division to replace the Rockies in the Smythe Division.
Last year each team in the Patrick Division played each other eight times during the regular season. A decision has not been reached on scheduling for the 1982-83 season, NHL President John Ziegler said today. But the move to a six-team division means the Washington Capitals must beat out two teams in the division for a playoff spot. The Capitals have not made the playoffs in their eight-year existence.
There was no immediate word how today's moves would affect the Capitals. Owner Abe Pollin was unavailable for comment. He has told Roger Crozier, the team's acting general manager, and Coach Bryan Murray to go ahead with plans for the draft and for next season.
Peter Gilbert, who sold the Rockies, had reported losses of $4 million last season, and had previously asked the league to move his team to the Meadowlands. Such a shift requires unanimous approval from the league's 21 teams. Objections from the Islanders and Flyers, hefty indemnification fees to those teams and the Rangers, as well as geographic realignment of the league had been major obstacles for such consent during a 19-hour meeting last week.
But today's meeting produced results. Gilbert, who bought the Rockies in 1981 for about $7 million, sold the team to McMullen and his partners, former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne and John Whitehead, senior partner of the investment firm Goldman-Sachs.
Although final costs still have to be established, it is believed the indemnification fees will be $9 million to the Rangers, $5 million to the Islanders and $2.5 million for Philadelphia.
In addition, a transfer fee to the league will be paid. Ziegler declined to divulge any figures, but the cost will probably be in the area of $10 million. Winnipeg also will be compensated an estimated $5 million.
As late as last week, Gilbert had hopes of retaining part of the team. He said today as he left the meeting he was a little sad.
Islanders General Manager Bill Torrey left the meeting looking less than pleased, and said only, "A solution to a problem was reached. Nothing in this world is 100 percent."
Winnipeg, which had earlier resisted a shift to the Smythe Division, will receive "travel assistance," according to General Manager John Ferguson. "They (the league) have conceded we'll be able to start road games earlier, and we'll get doubleheaders (back-to-back games) in L.A.," said Ferguson, alluding to the two-hour time zone difference in playing division rivals Edmonton, Calgary, Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Ziegler said the Meadowlands situation--costs, playing dates, schedule changes--will be worked out over the next few weeks.
When last week's talks stalled, there was speculation the NHL might buy the Rockies and move them to the Meadowlands as an expansion franchise. George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, was mentioned as a potential buyer, but Ziegler said today that he learned of Steinbrenner's interest via the press, and that the league was never contacted officially. via the press, and that the league was never contacted officially.