Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos: Blame injuries, not coach

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 28, 2014 

— The press conference had ended Monday, Ron Francis was named Carolina Hurricanes general manager, and team owner Peter Karmanos Jr. soon was taking on questions from the media about coach Kirk Muller.

How did Muller handle the team this season? Would he be back next season?

Karmanos mostly deflected them, saying, “That’s not something I’ll get into. Ron will do it. An owner is never happy if you don’t win. From my perspective, I think (Muller) has come a long way as a coach, but that’s not my call.”

But Karmanos didn’t leave it at that. Another question about the team triggered something in him.

“Look, this team is good enough to win the whole damn thing, OK?” he said. “If we didn’t have both our goalies out for umpteen games … We were at the (salary) cap, we had some outstanding hockey players, we had some tough injuries.

“So I guess I could blame the coach for that. I’m not going to. We were just a few points away from making the playoffs, like a lot of teams were. It’s very hard to hold people accountable for things that are out of their control.”

The Canes closed 10 points out of playoff position, missing postseason play for a fifth straight season. That came after Carolina spent close to the NHL’s salary cap of $64.3 million.

Asked about the budget for next season, Karmanos replied, “Everyone around here wants to talk about how much money you’re going to spend on the team like it makes a difference.”

Karmanos claimed the Canes had the lowest payroll in the league in 2006 when they won the Stanley Cup. In 2002, when Carolina faced Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals, he said the Canes’ payroll was $60 million less than the Red Wings’. His numbers may have been off but his point was made.

“So then you say, OK, I spent a lot of money and if the team doesn’t win it’s the coach’s fault?” Karmanos said. “Excuse me, that’s not the way you should look at it. The way you should look at it, I think, is do you think your coaching staff got what they should get out of that team. And what other mitigating circumstances were there, like injuries.”

Goalies Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward both were sidelined with injuries this season. Alexander Semin missed games with a concussion and Jeff Skinner with a hand injury.

But the Canes’ power play too often was anemic. Karmanos called the overtime and shootout record (6-11) “pathetic.”

“I can point to the flaws in the team like any owner can,” Karmanos said. “The fact is our goal is to put a competitive team on the ice. Part of that is winning and I think we have the best possible situation at this point in time, for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for five years. I think (Francis) has got a great opportunity to do something special.”

Karmanos said he plans to be more actively involved with the team. Jim Rutherford has resigned as general manager and his role as team president will be in an advisory capacity. That left an open question as to who will fill the void and run the business side of the operation.

Karmanos, 71, casually mentioned during lunch Monday that he planned to move to Raleigh from Detroit and oversee those business responsibilities – everything from marketing and corporate sales to the anthem singer.

“I’m fully retired now,” Karmanos said. “I’ve been threatening to do this for five years. I figured I’d better do it before I kicked off.”

(Luke DeCock contributed to this story)

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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