Podcast by Peter Koutroumpis, Managing Editor
RALEIGH, N.C. – There was a smoky haze over the Triangle on Friday, and a thicker one which swirled around PNC Arena following the game day skate preceding the Carolina Hurricanes’ meeting with the Montreal Canadiens.
Yes, wildfires in the Western part of the state were the main culprit, but when Hurricanes players stepped off the ice it seemed that flames had been fanned from a point farther North, from the Canadiens’ home province of Quebec.
Following a report from 98.5 Sports Radio in Montreal, it was implied that Hurricanes majority owner Peter Karmanos, Jr. was taking a more aggressive approach to selling the team, and if not, moving it.
Coupled with recently low-attended home games, hovering around the 9,000 mark give or take, the news in La Belle Province grew long legs that traveled down to the City of Oaks.
The optics from far away are that fan interest in the team is not high as the team has languished in the lower echelons of the NHL’s overall standings early in the season.
Add to that the financial issues that Karmanos himself has dealt with recently in a mediated settlement with his adult sons over a trust fund as well as business-related legal issues he’s been involved with over the past few years.
When anyone outside of Raleigh reads into those types of storylines, particularly around Quebec City, an area that is salivating and hungry to return an NHL hockey team there, and has a willing buyer in Quebecor, then there is reason for intrigue that a deal could or may be struck.
While the talk and reports have circulated, and even more so when the Habs have come to town, it has stayed out of the team’s dressing room – for the most part.
That all crept back in on Friday following the pregame skate.
Hurricanes leading scorer Jeff Skinner was asked by 98.5 Sports’ Martin McGuire, the originator of the news outlet’s report, “how is it playing in front of these empty seats this year?”
“I think for us, I think we have to focus on what we’re doin’ on the ice,” Skinner said.
“That sort of thing will take care of itself.”
McGuire ended his questioning with the inclusion of Karmanos’ situation, and asked how such news was being handled to “keep it away from the dressing room – all these rumors and stuff like that.”
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s that tough,” Skinner replied simply.
“You’ve got a lot of things to worry about as a player in the NHL, so you always worry about what you can control. A lot of those things are out of our control as players, so there’s really no point in worrying about them and using up that mental energy. We just keep worrying about what we have to do in this locker room and what we have to do on the ice, and we’ll be in a good spot.”
Even with such questioning before a game, Skinner remained true to his word and focused on his play on the ice.
With the Hurricanes trailing 1-0 after two periods, Skinner evened the score early in the third and triggered a rally that eventually resulted in a 3-2 win over the Candadiens.
The report and questions in the dressing room caught the Carolina front office off guard, so team president Don Waddell held an impromptu media briefing during the first intermission of the game.
Waddell tried to stomp on the embers of the part of the report that implied Karmanos was pushing for a sale more aggressively as a result of his legal dispute with his sons.
“We said that a year ago, when it all happened – it had nothing to do with the Hurricanes,” Waddell stated.
“The case has been settled. Obviously, the details haven’t been publicly announced; I’m sure they will at some point. Again, the Hurricanes were never part of that Trust and we still won’t be. That has nothing to do with the Carolina Hurricanes. Once all the documents are signed, sealed and delivered, that will come out because it is part of the public record.”
Waddell also denied that Karmanos was anywhere close to finding a buyer, but said, “if someone came along and wanted to buy it, I’m sure we’d talk about it.”
It was a telling statement related to Friday’s report that came out of Quebec.
Even while pointing out how the team’s finances over the past few years have been streamlined and are healthy, when asked again if the team was for sale right now, Waddell didn’t deny it.
“Well, everything is for sale for a price,” he said.
“Everything’s for sale for a price.”
With that said, and with Las Vegas recently paying a $500 million expansion fee, a new and unestablished franchise at that, it’s not far off that Karmanos is looking to find a willing buyer with that kind of capital, or close to it.
There is one in Quebecor.
The entertainment, media and telecommunications company has made significant investment in helping to build a new arena in Quebec City, as well as having placed the required expansion fee down on the table for a franchise.
They didn’t get it – at least not yet.
So, as Karmanos knows there’s a willing buyer out there, but if the NHL, led by Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s Board of Governors, isn’t ready to allow a sale to a potential buyer like Quebecor, it’s not surprising that back room messages are likely circulating and continue to do so.
That’s where a report like Maguire’s emanated from.
As the situation evolves and depending upon what Karmanos ultimately will or can do to sell the team, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the league may have to step in at some point to stabilize the situation, if needed.
Similar to the precedent it set in Arizona.
Regardless, two things have been and are still true regarding this situation – the Carolina Hurricanes are not going anywhere at this point, and the team is still ‘For Sale’ as Waddell confirmed.
At some point, something will happen, but when and how is not known.
Thus, Triangle-area fans and media alike will have to endure and pay attention to all rumors, rhetoric, and announcements alike and not discount any of it because there are varying amounts of truth and details lying within it all somewhere.
As they say, where there’s smoke, there is fire.