NEWARK, N.J. – The three-time Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils are for sale and a deal is expected before the start of the NHL season.

A person familiar with the negotiations said several groups are vying to buy the financially strapped franchise and there is a chance a deal might be done quickly.

The source spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday and requested anonymity because the negotiations between Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek and the groups are still active.

Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris heads one group and Calgary billionaire Bill Gallacher fronts another, as the deal includes operating rights to the Prudential Center.

The team will not relocate, the source said, adding that Vanberbeek will retain a minority ownership with the Devils.

The NHL said it has no interest in taking over the team. Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the issue on Thursday after Forbes magazine reported that the league would likely take over the team in September unless a new owner was found.

“I haven’t seen the Forbes report but if the suggestion is we’re going to take over the Devils, which is what I’ve heard the report says, it’s not accurate,” Bettman said.

The NHL recently ran the Phoenix Coyotes for four years before finding a new owner.

Forbes reported the Devils have $230 million of debt and that Vanderbeek missed the first payment on a recently restructured bank loan. Vanderbeek seemingly was close to selling the package to a group headed by Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Barroway but the deal fell through.

The source said Barroway’s group, which has invested $30 million in the offer, is still in the mix but at this point it has been “outbid.”

Devils General Manager and President Lou Lamoriello declined to comment on the negotiations.

“That’s one thing I stay away from,” Lamoriello told The AP.

A former Devils season ticketholder since the 1980s, Vanderbeek became a minority owner of the Devils in 2000. He purchased the team and became its majority owner in 2004.

Vanderbeek was one of the leading proponents behind the building of the Prudential Center, which opened as the Devils’ home in 2007.

The New Jersey Nets also played at the arena before moving into a new home in Brooklyn this past season.

The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and won additional Eastern Conference championships in 2001 and 2012. They missed the playoffs in the recent lockout-shortened season and were then stunned when 30-year-old superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk decided to play in his native Russia.

The Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, playing at the Meadowlands after relocating from Colorado. The team originally was the Kansas City Scouts, which entered the NHL prior to the 1974-75 season.

OUTDOOR GAMES: The NHL has limited its outdoor games to one, maybe two, a year since it first began playing them 10 years ago.

In January, that’s set to change. There will be four games that month and two more in March. The league is confident they’ll remain a strong draw.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said “we can’t do enough of them” and in 2014 that will be put to the test with six outdoor games.

The week before the Super Bowl is played in New Jersey, the Rangers will play their two local rivals at Yankee Stadium. On Sunday, Jan. 26 they’ll play an afternoon game against the New Jersey Devils. Then on Jan. 29, it’s a night game against the Islanders.

FLAMES: Robbie Ftorek, a former head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, will join Troy Ward behind the bench of the Abbotsford Heat, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames.

The Massachusetts-born Ftorek was most recently head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.

COYOTES: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the Arizona Republic newspaper that the Phoenix Coyotes, who were sold to IceArizona earlier this week, will host the NHL all-star game “at some point” in the near future.