In August 2014, no less a hockey authority than NBC sports radio host Dan Patrick said that the NHL to Las Vegas was a done deal, and that the Carolina Hurricanes were one of the teams that could relocate there.
Well, not in so many words, but you get the gist: “The other team to keep an eye on is, remember the Hartford Whalers owner? Peter Karmanos. He owns Nashville?”
Eh, close enough.
Hurricanes team president Don Waddell, whom you may remember from such previous NHL relocations as the Atlanta Thrashers, refuted the claim: "Pete Karmanos has put a lot of time and a lot of money into this marketplace. We have ten-plus years left on our lease with PNC Arena. This franchise isn't going anywhere.”
Fast forward to 2016. Las Vegas doesn’t have a team, although it’s in the final stages of the expansion process along with Quebec City. The former seems like a distinct possibility for expansion; the latter’s odds have gotten longer due to the Canadian dollar's drop, along with geographic considerations for the NHL two conferences.
That said, there’s always been a theory that Quebec City is the relocation fallback rather than an expansion option.
Karmanos has been selling the Hurricanes, or parts of the Hurricanes, for several years. They’re out of the playoffs again. The building is filled with empty seats every night, again. And as the expansion process plays out, the Hurricanes-as-relocation-option idea is once again bubbling up.
Over the weekend, there were rumors that Karmanos had discussions with Quebecor.
This could of course mean “hey, you selling the Hurricanes to an owner outside of North Carolina?” and then Karmanos saying “hell no,” as that would be a discussion. Or maybe it was something else.
John Shannon of Sportsnet, as plugged in as they come, said last week on the radio that Quebec City is being “held in reserve” for relocation, and that the team that they’re waiting on is Carolina:
“Gary and Bill have been very emphatic about saying ‘it may be one, it may be two, it may be none.’ I’m leaning towards the ‘none’ first and then towards the ‘one,’ and if it's the one then it would be Las Vegas. But it won’t be Quebec City. I do think Quebec City is being held in reserve for a future endeavor, which is relocation."
“That’s the $500 million question. When will it happen? When does Peter Karmanos have the absolute need to sell this team? How much does money does Peter Karmanos have right now?”
Shannon says the team has to be sold because “I don’t see it salvageable with this ownership at this point.”
There was also a report in the Montreal Journal last week, citing the Hurricanes’ financial losses as a reason for potential relocation.
But here’s another wrinkle, noted by Sportsnet’s Elliote Friedman on that same broadcast: What if Las Vegas doesn’t get an expansion team, and instead owner Bill Foley turns around and tries to buy and import the Hurricanes?
It would even out the conferences at 15 and 15. It would give Vegas a team that’s closer to contention than an expansion draft would provide. And it would potentially take a team that’s losing money with ownership looking to get out to a city where revenues could be more consistent and new ownership.
It does make a little sense.
There are some reasons for Hurricanes fans to be a little concerned.
If Karmanos decides he’s out, and there are no local ownership options at the moment … well, that’s usually when the NHL starts getting behind a potential relocation. And if it’s Vegas, for example, the fact that the Mid-Atlantic would be losing a geographically advantageous team for the NHL would be evened out by the Southwest gaining another. (In Vegas, no less, where the NHL would be in first.)
Plus, both cities are ready to drop $500 million on an expansion team, and Karmanos has said his asking price for majority ownership of the Hurricanes is $400 million.
But there are also reasons why Hurricanes fans should think all of this nonsense.
Like the fact that the Hurricanes' lease runs through 2024 and, according to the team, doesn’t exactly afford them an “out.”
Like the fact that Karmanos has said he expects the team to remain in Raleigh, although that view is tied to the “lucrative” nature of that lease. “You would have to be an idiot to move it,” he said in 2015.
So at least there are some needles for these relocation balloons, but ultimately it comes down to Karmanos to be the steward of their franchise’s future.
The same guy who, by the way, is a member of the committee that will help determine whether Las Vegas and Quebec are expansion cities or would be looking to buy a team like the Hurricanes. Because who doesn’t love a little conflict of interest in their upper reaches of NHL management?
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