SUNRISE, Fla. — Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos likes this year's hockey team. And not just a little. A lot.
Karmanos even brought up 2006 in talking about this year's team.
"I'm perennially the optimist," Karmanos said in an interview Saturday at BB&T Center. "I think we added a lot of goals, in tangible ways and intangible ways. I think our defense is one helluva lot better than anybody thinks. Justin Faulk will prove to be a remarkable defenseman in this league and I think it starts this year.
"I feel like we are a Stanley Cup contender. We're going to win an awful lot of hockey games. I'm as optimistic as I've ever been. In 2005-2006, I went on the record when people were picking us to finish dead last and said we were going to be a really good hockey team, and I'm more optimistic about this team than I was then."
After the lockout season of 2004-2005, the Canes surged to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship after winning the Southeast Division and finishing second in the Eastern Conference. That was a full season. This will be a 48-game sprint, and, as Karmanos noted, injuries will be a critical factor for many teams.
Another plus factor for the Canes, Karmanos said, should be in having Kirk Muller as coach. Muller was hired in late November 2011 after Paul Maurice was fired, and Karmanos said he liked what he has seen from Muller and his handling of the team.
"I like his enthusiasm, his positive attitude and his fairness," he said. "(Players) can trust what he says. He does hold the players accountable. If you earn your ice time, you get it. If you don't, you won't."
Karmanos said the league's new collective bargaining agreement should help the franchise, which he said was "slightly negative" in terms of net revenue for the 2011-2012 season.
The newly approved CBA provides for a 50-50 split of annual hockey-related revenue between players and owners -- the players were getting 57 percent under the previous CBA. That's basically in line with the revenue division in the NBA and NFL, and something the NHL owners sought, and in the end received, in the new 10-year CBA.
"We get more revenue. It's that simple," Karmanos said. "I'm not sure what the percentage is but it's significant. Our market is good enough that we'll spend the money to the (salary) cap if we think it can make a big difference for us. We're not just going to waste it and throw it away. The simple fact is out of $100 million in revenue we get $7 million more of it."
Karmanos laughed, noting, "That helps a lot. That pays at least one contract I know of."
Karmanos said he was "as frustrated as everybody else" during the lockout, which began Sept. 16. He said he sensed the Canes had a "great team" and was excited about seeing them play and compete.
But the league faced a strong adversary in NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who was well-skilled in labor negotiations after his long stint as head of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Asked if he ever believed the entire season might be canceled, Karmanos said. "I was prepared not to play. The head of the players union (Fehr) was doing his job. He's done it everywhere he's been. He made a mess of baseball but got a lot of money for the players, and he was trying to do the same thing in hockey.
"He did his job. He's done that everywhere he's been. The players that hired him knew exactly what they were getting into. I strongly believe we could have gone to Fehr before the start of the season and said, 'We'd like the same exact deal we've had the last umpteen years' and he would not have answered."
Karmanos said he never doubted hockey fans would return to back and cheer on their teams once the NHL labor fight was over, the lockout had ended and the teams back on the ice.
"If you're talking about the lockout and the dire predictions of all the Canadian media, I'm waiting for the first one of those to say, 'Gee, maybe we were wrong,'" he said. "Our fans support this game.
"Neither side, the players or the owners, like to have a lockout. The fact of the matter is we got it straightened out. We'll have an exciting season, we've got a 10-year deal and we pushed the economics so that we have a far more balanced league."
The Canes have more financial security, Karmanos believes, in that fhe franchise has added several investors and Karmanos said there might be a "few more from time to time." He said his ownership share of the team is "about 70 percent."