Luke DeCock

Why the hint of a Hurricanes sale is better than another day in limbo

Canes Karmanos in 2015: Says he's not moving team

Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos reiterated that he has no plans to move the NHL team out of Raleigh as he speaks at a press conference at PNC Arena in Raleigh on July 1, 2015.
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Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos reiterated that he has no plans to move the NHL team out of Raleigh as he speaks at a press conference at PNC Arena in Raleigh on July 1, 2015.

Finally, some hope for the future for Carolina Hurricanes fans – and not only on the ice, where the team’s future is increasingly bright, but in the (frequently unoccupied) owner’s suite as well, where Peter Karmanos is fielding an offer to buy the team.

The news Thursday that there’s a potential deal, reportedly with Chuck Greenberg, who once ran the Texas Rangers, helped save hockey in Pittsburgh and owns minor-league baseball’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans, appears to be the beginning of the end for the Hurricanes’ time in ownership purgatory, an existential malaise that has paralyzed the franchise since Karmanos lost his silent, unshakably loyal partner and his personal finances became increasingly strained.

There are still unanswered questions surrounding the deal – most notably, who is the money behind the bid? Just how ironclad is the purported promise to keep the team in Raleigh? – but any momentum toward change is positive momentum, and it’s easy to be happy about that.

The not knowing has been the worst part.

Gary Bettman’s pronouncements that the franchise would remain in Raleigh couldn’t offer much solace to fans who saw the Atlanta Thrashers move north of the border (especially when former Thrashers president Don Waddell assumed the same job with the Hurricanes). The predictable flow of rumors from Quebec became a persistent annoyance, like mosquitoes at sunset. And while it’s difficult to draw concrete connections between Karmanos’ financial issues and the Hurricanes’ playoff drought, the two do share a timeline, coincidence or not.

So while this may only be the first dawning rays of a sale that may still take months to finalize, it couldn’t be more welcome. And it couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time for the Hurricanes.

In the fourth year of general manager Ron Francis’ rebuilding process, the on-ice product is on an upward trend, and Jaccob Slavin’s new $37 million contract extension is the first of many big deals that will have to be made to keep the young core of the team together. As the Hurricanes get more competitive, it’s going to be increasingly expensive to pay young players like Slavin, Sebastian Aho, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin.

The Hurricanes have plenty of cap room, but someone still has to sign the checks, and the Hurricanes spent the least money in the NHL last season. As long as Karmanos owns the team, there are always going to be legitimate questions about his ability to finance the payroll as it approaches the $75 million salary cap. (The Hurricanes spent about half of that to win the Stanley Cup in 2006.) New owners would presumably be in position to support that kind of spending, even if revenue lags behind at first because of the damage done by the current playoff drought.

Even that’s getting ahead of things. These deals move slowly, and there are many potential pitfalls ahead before Karmanos hands over the keys. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, and it will take a long time to get to the finish. That’s just the nature of a nine-digit deal involving an operation as complicated as a professional-sports team.

But even the hint of a sale is better than more suffocating doubt. Even the faintest outline of a new owner is a welcome sight. Even the prospect of better days ahead is better than another day in limbo.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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