In the course of a 35-minute talk Wednesday at the Raleigh Sports Club, Carolina Hurricanes president Don Waddell was asked about the team being sold, what went wrong with Alexander Semin, trade rumors about Jeff Skinner, advertising on jerseys, postgame traffic at PNC Arena and how fast players can skate backward.
But Waddell was game. Part of his job is to be out in the community, talking Hurricanes hockey, building interest and hopefully selling more tickets, so no question is considered a bad one.
The buyout of Semin’s contract was the Canes’ costliest and most painful offseason move. The Russian forward had three years left on his contract, at $7 million a year, and buying him out will cost the Canes $14 million over a six-year period.
In simple terms, we paid him (Alexander Semin) $14 million to go away.
Hurricanes president Don Waddell
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“Alexander Semin was a very top-end player in the league when the game was played at a slower pace,” Waddell said. “It’s now played at such a high level if you can’t skate it’s hard to compete. Alex lost a step and he tried to play on the outside too much because he didn’t have the speed.
“And then he didn’t buy into the culture that our coach (Bill Peters) was trying to get in the locker room. When you go to practice and you have 22 guys doing things the way the coach wants and one who doesn’t, it usually doesn’t end well. … In simple terms, we paid him $14 million to go away. When we talk about ownership, you don’t do that unless you have a commitment to winning and Pete Karmanos certainly has that.”
Karmanos, the Canes’ majority owner, has said he wants to sell his interest in the team as part of a succession plan. His willingness to sell has added to the NHL scuttlebutt that the Hurricanes – formerly the Hartford Whalers before Karmanos relocated the team to Raleigh in 1997 – could move again depending on the new owner or owners.
“This franchise eventually will get sold, but it’s not leaving Raleigh,” Waddell said.
Waddell smiled and noted he and his wife had moved into a new house in Raleigh, adding: “I wouldn’t be buying a house if I thought we were leaving the city.”
Waddell again said the Canes’ lease with the Centennial Authority for PNC Arena extends until 2024. He also noted a proposed expansion and renovation of PNC Arena, estimating it could cost $50 million to $70 million.
The Canes ranked 29th in the NHL in home attendance last season (12,594), as Waddell and management made a decision to reduce the amount of complimentary and discounted tickets, putting more of a premium on season ticket holders. Waddell said Wednesday the season ticket base had dropped six years in a row but the Canes were encouraged by their season ticket sales for this season.
“This will be the first in the last six years that we start with more season tickets than we finished with,” he said.
Waddell, now in his second year as team president, was headed to New York to meet with other NHL team officials on financial issues. While not saying it was on the agenda, Waddell mentioned the ongoing discussion in the NHL of putting advertising on jerseys.
The NHL announced Tuesday it had signed a seven-year deal with Adidas as the league’s jersey manufacturer beginning with the 2017-18 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league hasn’t discussed the advertising issue and no talks were planned.
Waddell said he wouldn’t be opposed to having a small advertising patch, perhaps positioned near the shoulder, on home jerseys.
“I wouldn’t want it to be a billboard,” he said. “I think we got carried away in some other sports with some of the European teams. … We are looking for more revenue, and we need more revenue streams.”
The Canes open training camp Thursday with team physicals, and go on the ice for first time Friday at PNC Arena. Carolina opens the season Oct. 8 on the road against the Nashville Predators. The home opener is against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 10.
“We don’t like to say we’re rebuilding,” Waddell said. “We’re retooling.”