Carolina/Hartford: A House Divided Cannot Stand…

I’m addressing this article to the new Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon. Are you really a Carolina Hurricanes fan? Do you really want to make things work in Raleigh? Or do you want to move the team back to Hartford?

In less than a month after purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos who remains a substantial shareholder, Dundon, who comes from Texas wants to bring back some nostalgia from his new team’s history by wearing old uniforms. There is nothing wrong with that. All seven original teams (including Ottawa) sometimes wear brand new “old” uniforms when they play games. And other NHL franchises who have now been around for a while haul out old uniforms for nostalgia and marketing purposes. Selling nostalgia can be a great way of making extra money. Fanatical fans can now own and wear two or more jerseys, the current model and the oldie.

Hurricanes

But Dundon has put a new twist on nostalgia. He wants to sell, wear, and even play games in uniforms in the Hurricanes original incantation, the Hartford Whalers. Almost every old uniform of every team since the original expansion of 1967 can be purchased somewhere, particularly in sports stores in hockey-mad cities like Toronto. Now Dundon wants to officially sell old Hartford uniforms in Raleigh at games and even do something unprecedented in ANY of the four major professional sports in North America, have the home team play home games in the uniforms of another city.

whalers

This may be a nostalgia money maker but it probably won’t be a big one. How is playing games in Hartford uniforms supposed to start a rebirth of hockey in Raleigh? It makes sense to play games in old Hurricanes uniforms if they exist, but this ploy of playing in Hartford uniforms, if it comes off has to be at least a minimum bewildering act for Hurricanes fans under the new regime which can also be taken as an act of hostility or worse. It came hardly be interpreted as an act that commits the NHL to keep playing in Raleigh.

I doubt if the NHL will allow it if they are serious about keeping the Hurricanes in Raleigh and because it opens up a hornet’s nest. Taken to its logical conclusion, will we see games in which Calgary wears Atlanta uniforms, the Colorado Avalanche wearing the old blue and white of the Quebec Nordiques, Dallas wearing Minnesota North Stars uniforms, etc.? Here’s a couple of fun possibilities. The Winnipeg Jets playing an away game at Arizona only to see the Coyotes come out in old Jet uniforms, so that the Jets can play the Jets. And New Jersey can double the pleasure. All the forwards will wear Colorado Rockie uniforms while the defense and goaltender wear the old logo of the Kansas City Scouts.

And why stop there. Just because your current team once played in another city, why should it be limited to playing games in that old city’s uniforms? What’s wrong with the Montreal Canadiens paying tribute to their old provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques who are currently trying to return to the NHL, by playing some of their home games in Nordique jerseys? If they have a particularly bad game, they can always pretend they lost because they were wearing the uniforms of their hated rival. And how about some city bringing back some uniforms that at present can’t be brought back by any team. Who would like to see their home team wearing the jerseys of the old California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons?

This is an imaginative, but destructive idea. Sell old Hartford jerseys in Raleigh if you must, but don’t play any games in them. This is a new situation. You are supposed to be burning your past bridges and starting afresh with new hope. I doubt if Gary Bettman will warm to this idea. I can remember reading a book about the Green Bay Packers who had a few bad seasons in the 1950s, just like the Hurricanes have recently been experiencing, and then when Vince Lombardi took over the team in 1959, one of his first tasks was to make the Packer players proud of wearing Green Bay uniforms again. Instead we have Dundon who just bought the team telling his players to wear uniforms from another city. That’s a wonderful way of getting the citizens of Raleigh-Durham to identify with the Hurricanes.

The other thing that has to be considered is what effect does this “promotion” have in Hartford? It is known that Hartford and the state of Connecticut are finally taking active steps to bring back the Whalers, including a major renovation of their old arena. As mentioned in another article, all they lack is a good owner to front an expansion bid or bring back a relocated team. Have they just found one in Dundon?

Can you imagine if Dundon decided to have the Hurricanes wear Quebec Nordiques uniforms instead of the Hartford Whalers? In Quebec City, they would almost start to consider printing tickets for next season’s return to the NHL and even ask Dundon if some, if not all remaining Hurricanes home games for this season be played in Quebec City. Hey Dundon, how about playing some Hurricanes games in the uniforms of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL? After the agony of the Phoenix Coyotes debacle and all the other times Hamilton has been kicked around by the NHL, if you brought the Hurricanes to Hamilton instead of Quebec and Hartford, you’d be worshiped as a saint.

 

As Predicted: The Carolina Hurricanes Aren’t Coming To Quebec City Or Hartford

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.

 

Is Gary Bettman Waiting For Another Team To Collapse For Quebec?

There is no current news about a Quebec expansion team but that does not mean nothing significant is happening. First a brief recap.

Forget the nonsense of the official NHL story that the Quebecor bid was turned down because of conference imbalance and a low Canadian dollar. The real reason Quebec still does not have the Nordiques back is because the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made a lot of enemies on the NHL Board, first because he is a known supporter of the separatist provincial party, Parti Quebecois, and more specifically he publicly insulted a member of the Board, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson about his suitability in owning the team because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Peladeau never retracted his remarks or apologized to Molson and that made it easy for Gary Bettman and the NHL to turn down Quebecor’s bid long before construction started on the new Videotron arena. The recent election of Molson to the NHL Executive Committee confirms that Bettman and the Board were backing him to the hilt. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board and acted accordingly.

That did not solve the problem of Quebec. In 2010 Gary Bettman offered terms of readmission to all three ex-NHL cities that lost their franchises, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford. He publicly consorted with the Quebec Provincial Premier, the Quebec City mayor and other important businessmen and government officials and kept encouraging them to spend nearly $400 million taxpayer dollars on a new arena. Probably privately he told the premier and the mayor that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.

Videotron

Finding a suitable owner meant that Gary Bettman would work behind the scenes as much as possible so it is difficult to know what is going on. I have speculated that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche may be part of an attempt to put a suitable ownership group together.

Part of the problem is that there may not be enough rich French Canadians who want to own an NHL franchise. Another solution would be to accept outside help but Americans, investors from “English Canada” might fear an elected Parti Quebecois provincial government and have stayed away from investing in Quebec.

There is another possible solution. Like the Atlanta crisis a few years ago, Bettman and the Board may know about certain members of the Board who find their current cities unsuitable and would welcome a move to Quebec which is the coming city in Canada, soon, maybe within a decade to have over 1 million residents.

Quebec

There would be no problem in attracting sell-out crowds, attracting corporate sponsors, and selling Quebec Nordiques merchandise for a Quebec team. The market includes all of eastern Quebec province and the four Maritime provinces. Take away the racial and political problems, Quebec with a new arena is a marvelous investment opportunity, one of the better NHL franchises, a sure winner. Adding the city would restore the Quebec-Montreal rivalry, once the best in the NHL, allow Bettman to keep his promise, and get many of his Canadian critics off his back.

The only real drawback to Quebec getting an established NHL franchise instead of an expansion team is that the NHL would have to forgo that $500 million expansion fee. But in compensation, a current weak franchise would become an instant strong one. And the NHL could still get its $500 million by expanding to another western city instead which would allow the league to realign as well.

So if Quebec is to get its team by a franchise shift instead of expansion, who are the candidates? One of the most obvious ones, Arizona will not be moved because it will cause further conference imbalance. If the Coyotes move, they will be moved to a western city.

So the shifted franchise will come from the Eastern Conference. Based on current NHL attendance, the top choices can all said to be the “usuals”

1. Carolina Hurricanes

They have the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner, Peter Karmanos is known to want to sell. Currently the Hurricanes are drawing approximately 60% arena capacity, by far the worst in the NHL. The reasons for not moving the team are that the Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup so there is some kind of tradition. And the reason for poor attendance might be because the Hurricanes have not iced a contending team for a long time. But if they added a star player and contended again, would the fans come back? Still they are considered the number one target.

2. New York Islanders

They have been treated like poor cousins of the New York Rangers for years. Despite the heritage of winning four Stanley Cups in a row, a feat that has only been accomplished twice before, the Islanders have been treated shabbily since their glory days. Nothing was done to replace their outmoded arena with a new, larger, modern one. Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn which is far from their original fan base, is the second smallest arena in the league, and has lots of obstructive view seats. A few years ago, a large delegation of Quebec fans came down en masse and bought a large quantity of unsold Islander tickets to show the NHL they were in earnest to get the Nordiques back. The Islanders are a target all right. But moving this franchise would be a tremendous blow and loss of status to the NHL in the United States because of the Islanders history and heritage. And it is said that yet another new arena might be built in Queens. That would be the preferred solution for the NHL.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

It is one thing to move the Hurricanes and Islanders but there would be no problem in moving the inglorious Blue Jackets who have only made the playoffs twice in 16 years and have never won a playoff round. The Blue Jackets try to get fans from a cursed hockey area in the United States, Ohio-Indiana which I have labeled the “Death Valley” of American hockey. Nobody can explain why in an area so close to the Canadian border and between such hockey loving cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the east and Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit in the west, hockey is so unpopular. In these two states are buried the dead bodies of the Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Cleveland Crusaders, and Cleveland Barons, all from the 1970s. As mentioned in an earlier article, the NHL can never forget the horrible attendance of the ghost of the Cleveland Barons. That is why when NHL expansion is talked about, these cities are never mentioned. Columbus is simply the most successful team ever to inhabit these states. But they average just over 15,000 fans per game which is only 82% arena capacity. If the wonderful turnaround of the current season still does not attract fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to move to Quebec where they will be appreciated.

4. Florida Panthers

Florida ranks with inglorious Columbus. They made the Stanley Cup Final once, two decades ago. Since then they seldom make the playoffs. Gary Bettman had great difficulty finding new owners for the team a few years ago. The new ownership has made the team playoff contenders but they still only get 85% arena capacity for their games. Leaving the reluctant Miami market for Quebec is a real option for the Panthers.

5. New Jersey Devils

The Devils are the other poor relations of the New York Rangers. Like the Islanders they have a winning heritage with three Stanley Cups, but mostly they are a hockey after-thought after the Rangers and Islanders. They average 14.5 thousand fans which is 88% capacity. But moving the team is ugly for the NHL because of their past success and heritage. Perhaps moving to another part of New Jersey, away from the New York area where they can find fans that will really identify with the team is the best solution.

Is this the real plan of Gary Bettman and the NHL Board? Do the same thing as in the Atlanta crisis? Wait until the current season ends and then shift an existing franchise to Canada. That would be a suitable gift for Canada’s Sesquicentennial.