These are new and exciting and uncertain days for the Carolina Hurricanes, the kind of days when a midday press conference at PNC Arena overshadows not only the massive divisional win the night before but the rematch with the Washington Capitals to come at the arena later that night.
If it wasn’t clear Thursday just what a brand new day this is for the franchise when Thomas Dundon assumed control of the Hurricanes, it was clear Friday when he sat next to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, with Peter Karmanos on Bettman’s other shoulder.
“Those lousy crowds are the result of not having enough season tickets,” Karmanos said.
Moments later, without skipping a beat, Dundon laid down the new law.
“If we don’t sell more tickets, it’s not the fans’ fault. It’s our fault,” Dundon said.
Dundon’s wardrobe alone indicated nothing is going to stay the same. Karmanos and Bettman wore suits, per their usual. Dundon wore a windbreaker, per his usual, and must have left his omnipresent hat in his office. A wild ride lies ahead.
You might think, given Dundon’s determination to examine and, if necessary, upend every aspect of the franchise – even the hockey side, as much as Dundon thinks the team is on the right track, will be given upgrades in analytics and medical treatment – that Karmanos might look askance at some of this. For 24 years, this was his team, his baby, and while it’s fair to criticize his stewardship of it at times, none of this, from 2002 to 2006 to 2009, from the draft to the All-Star Game, even that dead-stinking-last season in 2003 that was a mesmerizing catastrophe to watch, would have happened without him.
An orderly transition of power is the hallmark of any functioning democracy, and you never know how the one of end era will slide into a new one. Karmanos didn’t have the smoothest transition from Compuware, the software company he founded, and the Hurricanes meant as much to him – if not more than Compuware. He choked up Friday talking about his silent partner Thomas Thewes, whose death in 2008 led Karmanos to consider selling the team in the first place. This team was his dream for a long time, and it was time to walk away. He knew it. That doesn’t make it easy.
But Karmanos is entering this new era with the same optimism and anticipation as anyone else around the franchise. For the first time in decades, at age 74, he’s a fan again. No worries about profits or loss. No one asking where to park the pallet-jack. No memos from the NHL.
“That’s the best part,” Karmanos said, smiling broadly. “It’s been that way for a few weeks.”
One of the things I was concerned about as we did this is, we want to do a lot of great things and we want to change a lot of things. Pete, I talked to him a couple times about this, is it OK if we do things differently? And he’s been the biggest cheerleader for, let’s do everything we can with no limitations and not worry about what we did before, and I don’t think that means we don’t appreciate what he did.
Karmanos’ new role as minority owner will be as a sort of senior adviser, but it’s clear Dundon is going to do things his way regardless of what Karmanos thinks, and Karmanos is fine with that. If anything, he’s as curious as anyone to see what happens.
“One of the things I was concerned about as we did this is, we want to do a lot of great things and we want to change a lot of things,” Dundon said. “Pete, I talked to him a couple times about this, is it OK if we do things differently? And he’s been the biggest cheerleader for, let’s do everything we can with no limitations and not worry about what we did before, and I don’t think that means we don’t appreciate what he did.”
Or, from Karmanos’ side: “I knew from the first time I talked to Tom he was the real deal and he would be a good owner. That’s very important to Gary, and especially to me, as far as who you turn the team over to.”
So this, as much as anything, will be a part of Karmanos’ complicated legacy. He brought the team here. He won a Stanley Cup. There were too many years where the franchise languished and failed to reach its potential. And then, when the time came, he turned the keys over to someone with a new vision, new ambition and new energy committed to making this work in Raleigh, as we all know it can.
On his way out of the building Friday, Karmanos stopped by the sixth-floor office that used to be his. He never used it much, and Dundon was already in it Thursday afternoon, holding meetings and digging through merchandise samples. Karmanos slid the plate bearing his name off the wall and slipped it into his bag. Then he stepped outside to smoke a cigar, and for the first time in a long time, he was just another guy outside the arena hoping for a Hurricanes win on a Friday night.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock