The sale of the Carolina Hurricanes by Peter Karmanos to Tom Dundon means that at least for a while, the Hurricanes won’t be coming to either Quebec City or Hartford. Despite rumors that have arisen over the past few years, this writer at least has been steadfast in believing that the Hurricanes will stay in North Carolina despite the noticeable drop in attendance.
The main reason for the drop is not that hockey has become unpopular in North Carolina but because Carolina hasn’t iced a competitive team for almost a decade. During Karmanos’s last years, the Hurricanes declined from the peak of winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. The last sparkle was the Hurricanes getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. Since then the Hurricanes could usually be found among the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. No wonder attendance dropped off.
But if Dundon shows the same kind of competence that Bill Foley is showing in Las Vegas, there is no reason to believe that the fans won’t come back. Like the New York Islanders, who have struggled with attendance and arena problems since their peak years in the early 1980s, winning the Stanley Cup can go a long way to get a franchise to survive during tough times. The memory of winning seasons, can cause ex-attendee fans to remember back to the glory years and long for a champion again. Winning the Stanley Cup even once starts a championship tradition.
Certainly NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes in the power of a Stanley Cup victory. He was in attendance when Dundon was introduced, an open signal that he still believes in the Carolina market. Such optimism is completely missing in his two remaining trouble spots, Florida and especially Phoenix where no Stanley Cup banners hang in the local arena. A huge reason for the unpopularity of the Coyotes in Arizona is that they have only iced a competitive team once in their entire history. That’s not true in Carolina. The real danger sign that would threaten the franchise is if the Hurricanes start icing playoff teams again and the fans still don’t return.
Dundon is in a good situation to take over. The Hurricanes are starting to be competitive again. Currently, they have at least a 50% chance of making the playoffs this year and for sure baring injury, of at least being competitive for the last playoff positions. What they really need in this market are star players who are box office draws. The Hurricanes are mostly no-names. Even if they miss the playoffs again this year, a good draft in Dallas and some astute trades could capture the imagination of hockey fans in Raleigh again.
As for Quebec and Hartford, despite the rumors over the past few years, they should now consider getting the Hurricanes to relocate to be a closed book, at least for now. What Hartford should be doing is trying to find a suitable investor like Foley and Dundon to front a Hartford bid for an NHL expansion franchise and coming to a final settlement about the Hartford arena problem. Both the mayor and the governor of Connecticut want the Whalers back as a key to reviving Hartford as a vibrant city. Hartford with a proper NHL arena and a suitable owner would be a winner, a sure money maker.
For Quebec, losing the Hurricanes relocation option simply narrows down the choices to get its beloved Nordiques back. Before proceeding any further, Quebec City fans should take note of this Dundon/Hurricanes press conference as another signal of the real reason why they don’t have the Nordiques back. Note that Commissioner Bettman was there in person, in whole-hearted support of Tom Dundon. Since when has he ever been seen in the company of the openly racist Pierre Karl Peladeau? The NHL loves the Quebec market and its brand new Videotron arena but wants nothing to do with the pro-separatist, would-be Nordiques owner Peladeau, who made inappropriate racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, and has built up a stack of enemies on the NHL Board of Governors.
I’ve advanced the idea in other articles on this blog that Quebec’s best chance of getting the Nordiques back quickly would be if the NHL accepts the current Seattle bid, then adds two other Western Conference expansion teams, and then shifts the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec. This kills two birds with one stone. With the horrible team, the Coyotes are currently icing, there is no way they are going to get public money for building a new downtown Phoenix arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns want nothing to do with the Coyotes about building a new facility. Shifting the Coyotes out of Phoenix where they have no future to Quebec gets the NHL out of a hostile market and at the same time gets the unsuitable Peladeau out of the picture.
In support of this theory, the Seattle bid could not be more welcome for Quebec. So is the news that Houston wants to actively pursue getting an NHL franchise. It only remains to find a third western city that wants an NHL team. Unless some suitable French Canadian bidder who has been hiding in the shadows appears, at least for now, that is probably the best way the Nordiques will return to Quebec. But Carolina is now a dead issue. Hartford and Quebec have to look elsewhere.