Luke DeCock

Karmanos’ deserved Hall of Fame honor comes at awkward time

Robert Willett

The odds were against anyone from the Carolina Hurricanes being elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, but if there was money on the board, there were a few former players with a shot.

At the top of the list would be former captain and current assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour, one of the greatest defensive forwards the game has known. Not far behind: Tom Barrasso, a trend-setter among American goalies who completed his career with the Hurricanes.

Both were passed over again, but the Hurricanes got someone in regardless, someone less expected.

Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos was one of two people elected in the builder category on Monday, which recognizes contributions to the game. He'll join current Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis, former defenseman Paul Coffey and radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton among the Hall's halls.

It's slightly awkward timing for Karmanos, who is being honored for growing the game of hockey at the same time he's in the process of withdrawing from it.

The 72-year-old recently sold his Ontario Hockey League junior team, a venture which represented his first foray into hockey ownership in 1983 and led to the first U.S.-based OHL team in 1989. Both the Hurricanes and his ECHL team, the Florida Everblades, are on the market. By the time he's inducted in Toronto in November, he may no longer be a hockey owner at all.

Nevertheless, there's no doubting what Karmanos has done for hockey in the United States, from his massive youth-hockey operation in Michigan to his willingness to gamble on the Triangle as a pro hockey market, an endeavor which may be on somewhat shaky ground at the moment but has provided ample evidence over the years it has the potential to succeed on and off the ice.

Already a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and winner of USA Hockey's Lester Patrick Award, which honors contributions to the game on this side of the border, Karmanos certainly had a strong case for enshrinement in Toronto (even if the hockey fans of Hartford may raise an objection).

But so does Brind'Amour, a two-time Selke Trophy winner as the game's best defensive forward, captain of a Stanley Cup champion, 19th all-time in games played, in the top 50 all time in career points. And so does Barrasso, who entered the NHL straight out of high school and played at an elite level for almost two decades. The same can be said of Glen Wesley and Mark Recchi, two of the game's longest-serving players.

They were all passed over, and while it's hard to argue with Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom or Chris Pronger (all of whom faced the Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final at some point), certainly Brind'Amour's resume compares favorably to that of Phil Housley, the fourth men's player inductee.

None of Brind'Amour or Barrasso or Wesley or Recchi would ever have played here if Karmanos hadn't moved the Hartford Whalers to North Carolina in 1997, enduring the two grim years in Greensboro before putting down roots in Raleigh, arguably the least traditional of any of the NHL's nontraditional markets.

From 2001 through 2009, the Hurricanes became one of the NHL's Sun Belt successes. The six years since have seen the franchise struggle on the ice and while plunging into uncertainty off if it as Karmanos attempts to find a buyer. The aura of goodwill that surrounded the NHL All-Star Game in 2011 has eroded completely.

Karmanos was rewarded for his faith in this market not only with the Stanley Cup in 2006 but with a growing, excited fan base that generated such optimism for the future, and led to a youth-hockey boom in the Triangle that is just now starting to generate NHL prospects.

Now Karmanos is being rewarded with the game's highest honor, ironically at a time when the Hurricanes themselves are at perhaps their lowest. It's as good a moment as any to remember the good times he brought here, and hope there are still more in the future.

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

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