Sergei Fedorov and Peter Karmanos, Jr., are two members of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2015. Karmanos, the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, said of Fedorov that it was “pretty obvious that he was going to be a Hall of Famer.”
Which helps explain why he was willing to hand him $38 million back in 1998.
The Carolina Hurricanes were a money-losing team as the franchise moved from Hartford to Raleigh. Estimates were that the team was $25 million in the hole that year.
So what did owner Karmanos do? He put a six-year, $38-million offer sheet on Fedorov, a superstar with the Detroit Red Wings who had been unsigned during a bitter restricted free-agent negotiation with the team.
Oh, and it was a doozy of a contract, according to this 1998 piece by Michael Russo:
Just $12 million of the $38 million is Fedorov's base salary, which will be paid at $2 million per year. He will receive a $14 million signing bonus, which will bump him to $16 million this year, leaving a final $12 million.
But that's the kicker, a scare tactic the Hurricanes hope discourages Detroit owner Mike Ilitch from matching the offer. The $12 million will be paid to Fedorov over the next four years unless the team reaches the conference finals. Then the bonus must be paid in one lump sum.
And since the Red Wings were a hell of a lot closer to making the conference final than Carolina, this was indeed a poison pill Karmanos had Mike Ilitch swallow.
But swallow it he did, and Fedorov made $28 million that season for about 4 months of work. The result was “a league-wide escalation of salaries -- not to mention a breakdown in the restricted free agent system,” according to the Hartford Courant.
Much of this stemmed from a rivalry between Karmanos and Ilitch. Karmanos wanted to move the Whalers to Detroit; the Red Wings blocked it with help from the NHL. Both sponsored amateur teams that were local rivals. According to the NY Times: “When Karmanos ran a major junior team at Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Red Wings, Ilitch evicted him, forcing Karmanos to relocate to the suburbs in 1995.”
So this was a level of revenge. But the ultimate chance to defeat Ilitch came in 2002.
“I remember one of the columnists in Detroit on a radio show wondering what was wrong with me. How could I expect the Hurricanes could even compete for the Stanley Cup?” Karmanos said of the Fedorov offer sheet.
But in 2002, the Hurricanes met the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. The series turned in Game 3, with the teams tied at a win apiece: a triple-overtime win for the Red Wings on an Igor Larionov goal.
But the game was sent to overtime with just 1:14 left in regulation on a Brett Hull goal. And it was Fedorov that helped make it happen.
“As fate would have it, Fedorov made an unbelievable a play to keep the puck in our zone,” recalled Karmanos. “And Mr. Hull scored the goal.”
The other assist went to Nicklas Lidstrom, Class of 2015 Hall of Famer, who called it one of this most memorable moments as the Red Wings would win the Stanley Cup in five games.
It was for Karmanos as well … if only because of what might have been.
“If Sergei had been playing on our team that year, as good as the Red Wings were, we would have … “ Karmanos’s words trailed off.
“First of all, if we had won that game, it really would have put the pressure on the Red Wings,” he said. "Had they not matched [the offer sheet], we would have won another Cup."
Overall, Karmanos, who is being inducted in the “builder” category,” said the growth of the Hurricanes fan base has been steady since the move from Hartford – even if it meant converting a lot of fans that had previous loyalties.
“They would show up at the games, in the beginning, wearing Blackhawks or Buffalo jerseys. And the next time I’d see them at the game they’d have Hurricanes jerseys on,” he said,
But nearly 20 years after the relocation, Karmanos said building that fan base remains a challenge. “We still have to work very hard to bring the fans into the building, but they are great hockey fans in the Sunbelt. We just need more of them. That’s all,” said the owner, who has had his share of the Hurricanes on the block since last year.
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