The NHL initially declined to comment on the lawsuit against Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, but in the days that followed the league quickly initiated a media blitz that culminated with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on a conference call with The News & Observer on Thursday.
The NHL could have quelled some of the concern by moving earlier to dispute the contention in the lawsuit filed by Karmanos’ three adult sons that the trust fund they shared with their father was used to obtain loans and advances from the NHL to support the operation of the Hurricanes – “the trusts have not been used as collateral,” Bettman said – but the league is very vocally and publicly reassuring fans that Karmanos’ legal issues and personal finances don’t put the franchise in imminent danger despite the rumors swirling during the expansion process.
Bettman clearly still believes in the Triangle as an NHL market, called a reported figure of $300 million in loans from the NHL “absurd” and said, “I don’t see the Hurricanes relocating, period.”
Bettman remains a polarizing figure in the wider world of the NHL, as evidenced yet again by the ritual booing when he emerged in San Jose on Sunday to present the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And yet the NHL has grown by leaps and bounds during his reign, with revenue and salaries increasing dramatically while obtaining a general degree of stability in a league that too often operated – and in its worst moments, still does – like it was run out of someone’s garage.
We don’t investigate our owners’ financial wherewithal on a weekly or daily basis, but the fact is the club is meeting all of its obligations.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
His tenure has been good for the NHL, despite those pesky lockouts, and he’s been good for hockey here.
He believed in the Triangle as a hockey market when few else did, endorsed Karmanos’ decision to move the Whalers here in 1997 and, eventually, delivered on his promises to bring first the NHL Draft and then the All-Star Game to Raleigh. When he says he stands by the market, there’s no reason not to take him at face value.
It’s what Bettman didn’t say that’s slightly worrisome. Asked two direct questions about Karmanos’ finances, he bobbed and weaved as only Bettman can – and that’s a compliment to Bettman’s considerable rhetorical acumen.
“You’re confident then, you have evidence or figures or whatever it is that you take as security, that Mr. Karmanos still has the financial wherewithal to operate the club?” Bettman was asked.
“We don’t investigate our owners’ financial wherewithal on a weekly or daily basis, but the fact is the club is meeting all of its obligations,” he replied.
Bettman was then asked: “It’s not unusual, I guess you could say it’s even standard practice, for teams to take advances on television money, revenue-sharing money, other parts of their share of national league revenue. The Hurricanes, I assume, are one of the teams that have done that. Has that played a role in the day-to-day operation of the club from a cash-flow perspective?”
“I don’t get involved in discussing what clubs may or may not take advances on their TV revenues, but it’s not uncommon for many clubs to do that because of cash flow because we’re a seasonal business,” he replied.
It’s good news for the Hurricanes that Bettman is willing and eager to take such public stands in support of the franchise. Based on Bettman’s non-answers to specific questions, it’s also still fair to wonder just how much money Karmanos really has and how much the NHL is propping him up until he can find a buyer willing to meet his price or conditions.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock