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DeCock: Hurricanes’ struggles once again make them target for rumors

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Thursday morning on his radio show, Dan Patrick claimed that “a financial person who’s involved in this” told him the NHL would have a team in Las Vegas by 2016. He further claimed the Carolina Hurricanes were one of two teams that could move there.

“I guess he’s asking an exorbitant price for his team,” Patrick said, after initially identifying Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos as the owner of the Nashville Predators. “That’s also a possibility from what I’m told. They could relocate as well.”

Patrick is probably right about the first part. Expansion, to Las Vegas and beyond, appears inevitable. As for the second, just consider this kind of talk the price of five straight seasons without a playoff appearance. As ticket sales and corporate sponsorships dwindle, as Karmanos sells off chunks of the team to local investors, these kinds of rumors will only intensify.

But Karmanos is getting more involved with the Hurricanes, not less, even as he continues to seek investors. And the team’s arena lease gives it every incentive to remain here, even under different ownership should Karmanos decide to sell, because the Hurricanes control the arena.

Not to mention the NHL is considering expansion precisely because of the financial bonanza relocation does not offer. Essentially, it’s free money for existing owners, as Patrick would later note. Moving the Hurricanes to Las Vegas would actually cost other NHL owners money, far more than what the Hurricanes get from them in revenue-sharing.

In short: Karmanos may sell the team, but it’s unlikely to be to someone who would move it, at least until after the NHL goes through this latest impending spasm of expansion.

This kind of rumor-mongering is the price the Hurricanes pay for their fall from NHL relevance. It was, along with predictions that Paul Maurice would be the first coach fired each season, a staple of the team’s early years here. The Hurricanes were invariably lumped in with Nashville and Florida and Atlanta and the other Sun Belt teams as likely to move. And understandably so: For a long time, it was hard to see a path to viability during the Greensboro years and the first few seasons in Raleigh.

Two lockouts, the 2002 finals appearance and a Stanley Cup later, the foundation is more stable. Kids from this area are playing college and junior hockey and being drafted (one so far) by NHL teams. And Karmanos, for all his quirks and faults as an owner, has steadfastly stood by the market as a long-term play even as he has sold off pieces of the team.

But when you miss the playoffs year after year, when the building slowly empties night after night, when your poor performance opens the door to questions about the franchise’s future, this is what happens. People talk.

Patrick, like many former ESPN employees, has a long-standing and open grudge against Karmanos for moving the team out of Hartford in 1997. The day after the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, both Patrick and Keith Olbermann heaped invective on Karmanos on the radio and were reprimanded by ESPN for it.

That doesn’t mean Patrick is wrong that the NHL will have a team in Las Vegas soon, but it’s certainly worth considering when he claims Karmanos and the Hurricanes are involved.

The real problem here isn’t Patrick. It’s that the Hurricanes, once arguably a model Sun Belt franchise, have regressed to the point where they are again targeted for this kind of talk.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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