RALEIGH — The question of who will be the next owner of the Carolina Hurricanes has been answered with the announcement that Dallas businessman Tom Dundon will — pending NHL approval — buy a majority stake of the team from Peter Karmanos Jr.
Karmanos, long criticized by supporters of the Hartford Whalers for moving the team to North Carolina three years after buying the franchise, seemingly got everything he wanted from the sale.
Dundon will, according to Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman, buy 52 percent of the team for nearly $240 million, allowing Karmanos to remain a minority owner for a few years as he desired. Dundon would them have the option to buy the rest for a total of about $500 million.
As Karmanos, the NHL and just about anyone informed of the facts of Carolina’s ownership situation already knew, the team will remain in the Triangle under Dundon’s ownership.
So what can Dundon, 45, do to change the fortunes of a franchise that is tracking toward a ninth straight season outside of the playoffs and ranked at or near the bottom of the league in attendance the past few seasons?
Win at all costs
No, we’re not talking about pouring sugar into opponents’ gas tanks after the front end of back-to-back games. Carolina needs sugar, though — a sugar daddy. The Hurricanes have been closer to the salary cap floor than its ceiling, and the team needs its new owner to spend beyond the purchase cost.
There are raises for several players on the horizon. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce will, combined, cost nearly $9.5 million against the cap starting next year under their new long-term contracts, while Noah Hanifin and Jeff Skinner are due new deals after this season and 2018-19, respectively, along with others.
Taking care of your own and being a player in the market, however, are different animals. This is not an endorsement of throwing money in every corner of the free agent or trade markets (see Terry Pegula and Buffalo; this can go horribly wrong), but there’s certainly cash that hasn’t been spent under Karmanos.
Karmanos often talked about being more hands-on with the Hurricanes after he retired from Compuware in 2013, but he remained mostly an absentee landlord. Given his penchant for ruffling feathers, Karmanos was perhaps best suited to be a long-distance owner.
That said, the Hurricanes and the region never embraced Karmanos because he simply wasn’t around. Compare that to Blue Jackets owner John H. McConnell, who was beloved in Columbus and helped keep the franchise afloat even as the team struggled on the ice from inception through the turn of the century.
The Hurricanes need an owner the fanbase and Triangle can embrace. It would be hard to replicate the bond McConnell had with Blue Jackets fans or the admiration Pittsburgh Steelers fans have for the Rooneys, but Dundon needs to be a calming and positive force for the franchise.
Look no further than the excitement surrounding the first suitor for the team, Chuck Greenberg. When reports leaked that Greenberg was deep in negotiations to buy the team, observers took notice of his ownership history of making fan experience a priority. Hurricanes supporters are starving for someone who will share their enthusiasm for the team even in lean times.
Be a mover and shaker
Karmanos held a seat on the NHL executive committee until last year, but he was often only mentioned during collective bargaining when he was seen as a hard-liner in negotiations with the NHLPA.
Dundon, if the sale goes through, will be one of the NHL’s youngest owners and could eventually infuse energy into the league’s ownership ranks. Of the 10 owners currently serving as executive committee governors, only Montreal’s Geoff Molson is in his 40s. Dundon won’t bulldoze his way into a prominent role from the get-go, but the owners could use a young face like him front and center, rather than the likes of Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs.
A full audit
Karmanos has always taken care of his own — look top to bottom through the organization and you’ll find countless people who climbed the organizational ladder. Dundon, however, will surely want his people in place, and a hard look at every corner of the operation — from on-the-ice hockey operations to parking lot attendants — is long overdue.
The Triangle has proven it can be a flourishing and vibrant hockey market. An increase in the team’s hockey payroll from a new owner who has an up-front and active role in accessing both the organization and the NHL will return the Hurricanes to respectability.