Relocation winds swirl around Carolina Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. – Les Ouragans de Québec?
It doesn’t quite have the same ring as Quebec Nordiques 2.0 but, as the Canadiens met the Carolina Hurricanes Friday, there was renewed talk that the troubled ’Canes are on their way out of town and Quebec City is being mentioned as the most probable destination.
Peter Karmanos Jr., the team’s 73-year-old owner has grown tired of losing money and has had a For Sale sign on the team for the past two years. He has hoped to find local partners who would allow him to gradually relinquish control of the team, a plan Charles Wang employed with the New York Islanders.
There has been some interest, but nobody willing to agree to Karmanos’ assertion that the team is worth US$400 million.
In its most recent evaluation of NHL teams, Forbes magazine valued the franchise at $225 million, which is probably a fair price for a team that has become the NHL equivalent of a failed state.
But the team could easily be worth $400 million elsewhere, like in Quebec City where there is an NHL-worthy rink and a proven fan base.
The price tag would be cheaper than the $500 million Las Vegas paid for an expansion team although you can expect the NHL to add a relocation fee and the Canadiens would expect the new neighbours to honour a Quebec tradition and pay a welcome tax if they were to move into the Vidéotron Centre. And there’s also the matter of the PNC Arena lease, which runs until 2024.
The NHL wouldn’t be happy about leaving the 25th-largest TV market in the U.S. but, at some point, the league has to face reality.
A decade ago, this was a hockey town. The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, the arena was packed and the pregame tailgate parties featured smokin’ barbecue and cold beer.
But the Hurricanes have made the playoffs only once since 2006 and attendance has dropped steadily. In 2013-14, the average attendance was 15,484. This season, the Hurricanes are averaging 11,189 and that’s down from 12,204 last season. The current crowds represent 59.9% of capacity.
The Hurricanes are losing money despite having the lowest payroll in the NHL. At one point, Karmanos borrowed $100 million from a trust fund established for his three adult sons and they sued when he missed a $4-million interest payment. The two sides reached a mediated settlement in September and the speculation is that dad may be forced to sell the team to keep the boys happy.
And then we have the continuing saga of the Arizona Coyotes, who are looking for their third home since moving from Winnipeg in 1996.
The Coyotes announced this week they are hoping to move to a new $400-million arena on the campus of Arizona State University. The team will put up half the money with the state of Arizona and the city of Tempe putting up the rest.
We should pause here for a moment of silence for the latest group of taxpayers about to be fleeced by the Coyotes. The team is playing in the Gila River Arena in Glendale and the taxpayers there will be paying off the $145-million debt on that building for about 15 years after the Coyotes move out in 2019.
But it won’t be the only white elephant arena in the Phoenix area. The Coyotes’ first home in the desert was America West Arena, the home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton is proposing to build a new arena to replace the city-owned building now known as the Talking Stick Resort Arena. Stanton says it would make sense for the Suns and Coyotes to share the new building, but the Coyotes are only too aware they would play second fiddle to the more popular Suns.