RALEIGH — The Greater Raleigh Sports Council filled the PNC Arena restaurant Wednesday for its annual We Love the Hurricanes luncheon.
On Friday, the arena will be packed as the Carolina Hurricanes open the 2013-2014 season hockey against the Detroit Red Wings.
Im very optimistic about this year, team owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said.
In an interview this week, Karmanos talked about this years team and its chances in the NHLs new Metropolitan Division. He talked of the financial resources being used to make it competitive, saying, Were not a budget team. Were a cap team.
That is, a team willing to spend close to the NHLs salary cap.
But Karmanos also discussed the future of the franchise. He is, after all, 70 years old. And recent developments involving him have led to questions about his plans for the franchise.
September proved to be a contentious month for Karmanos. Early in the month he fired his son, Jason, as executive vice president and assistant general manager of the Hurricanes. Jason Karmanos had been with the team for 15 years, helping the Canes win the 2006 Stanley Cup.
This week, it was learned Peter Karmanos had been fired as a consultant by Compuware, the Detroit-based software company he co-founded. Karmanos, already retired as Compuwares CEO, had a six-year, $600,000-a-year contract as a consultant terminated for making comments critical of company management, the Detroit News reported.
Karmanos said neither development would affect the running or direction of the hockey franchise, or result in a possible sale.
If I were to sell the team, Im sure whoever bought it would keep it there, he said. The league is resolute in not moving franchises, not after what they went through in Phoenix. Besides, Raleigh is too good a market and its growing like crazy.
But the team is not for sale. As long as Im breathing I will run the team and try to win another Stanley Cup.
Karmanos has brought in new investors in recent years but said he still owns 75 percent of the franchise. He said he may look to add a few new investment groups but added, Theres not a pressing need for investors. We accomplished what we wanted to.
Jason Karmanos dismissal was called a family matter by his father on Sept. 8, and Peter Karmanos declined to comment further on it. Jason Karmanos called it a personal disagreement, saying it was not related to his job performance with the team.
Peter Karmanos left the door slightly cracked regarding Jason Karmanos possibly returning to the Hurricanes at some point and maintaining the family involvement with the team.
I dont know. Time will tell, Peter Karmanos said.
Jason Karmanos, contacted Wednesday night, was not sure if that would occur.
I believe the franchise is entering a very critical period of time, and that is why I was particularly frustrated to be removed from the team last month, he said via email. I have not spoken to my dad since the day he fired me, and on that day he made it very clear he did not want me working for his team.
I have no idea who would own the team if something should happen to my dad. That is something our family has never discussed.
Jason Karmanos duties included helping oversee the day-to-day operations of the team as well as contract negotiations and player movement. He also monitored the hockey operations of the Hurricanes minor-league affiliates.
Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford said this week that Jason Karmanos responsibilities were split among Ron Francis, vice president of hockey operations; Mike Amendola, executive vice president and chief financial officer; Brian Tatum, vice president of team operations; and Darren Yorke, video scout and hockey operations assistant.
Theyre more than capable of picking up those duties, Rutherford said.
Karmanos said the franchise financially looks fine despite the Canes not reaching the playoffs the past four years. Rutherford said the clubs season-ticket totals dropped by about 1,000 from last year, citing increased ticket prices as the chief cause of the decline. He said he was pleased with corporate sales and said suite sales were the same as last year.
We need to sell more, he said. If we play well, people will come.
The Hurricanes have a 10-year agreement with Fox Sports Carolina that has increased franchise revenue. For the first time since the team moved to the state in 1997, all 82 regular-season games will be televised.
Of his departure from Compuware, Peter Karmanos said it was not upsetting or bittersweet.
Not really, because I really wanted to retire 10 years ago, he said. But I felt a responsibility to the people there. We were going through the dot.com bubble situation and a large amount of business went away. But Ive been trying to get out of there since.
Its been 40 years. Im 70. It doesnt have the same effect as it would have at, say, 58. If anything its been 10 years longer than I expected. And I wont be blamed if it goes in the tank.
Karmanos said he planned to be in Raleigh more often, but a family move from the Detroit area to North Carolina might be too disruptive at this time.
I do plan to work full-time and have more of a presence in Raleigh, he said.
Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, attended the luncheon Wednesday at PNC Arena. He called Karmanos an individual totally dedicated to hockey excellence who continually expressed confidence in the market and its support of the franchise.
And if something should happen to Karmanos?
I think his legacy will succeed him, Schmitt said. The team and the sport have found a place in the culture of our market. Its a rallying point for the community (and) I think the community will rally behind it, however the franchise changes over time.