Carolina Hurricanes President and GM Jim Rutherford was interviewed by WRAL's Jason Jennings yesterday afternoon and the head honcho of the Canes confirmed recent speculation about the outlook of frugality the team faces for the coming season. While the exact salary cap ceiling and floor numbers have yet to be determined by the league and player's union, Rutherford said that the team's budget would be at or near the cap floor which is projected to be between $43 to $45 million.
The club is transitioning to a spending model which will hopefully show potential investors that the franchise can be profitable, even if they do not make it to the playoffs. But that won't be easy to do, especially if attendance continues to decline.
According to ESPN, the Canes' regular season home attendance dropped by about 55,000, from a total of 679,488 in 2008-09, to 624,873 last season. Using an average of $60 per ticket, that's a loss of $3,300,000 just in ticket sales.
The franchise should rebound nicely at the gate this season as they use the All Star game as a carrot to lure back season ticket holders, but will casual fans get behind a young, low budget team, especially if they struggle?
The budget crunch has already handcuffed the general manager into giving fan favorite Ray Whitney a low contract offer, an amount which Rutherford admitted himself that Whitney could beat on the open market. But the tough days have just started for the Carolina GM.
Rutherford has a couple of very difficult situations in front of him including the possible buyouts of Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind`Amour. He told Jennings that if the organization decides to "go in a different direction" with Brind'Amour, it would be very difficult and something he is not comfortable with. If they decide not to bring Brind'Amour back, it would clearly be the toughest decision he's had to make since being a general manager.
When Jennings asked if the fact that Peter Karmanos was looking for a new ownership partner affected his job he replied, "I think it affects everybody. We all get a little bit anxious when we look at that situation as to what changes will be brought about with a new investor, whether it’s a partner or whether it’s someone who comes in and wants the whole team."
Not that the Hurricanes are moving anywhere, anytime soon. Rutherford emphasized that the Carolina market was a "very, very solid" one. Still, if the team can not turn a profit while operating at the cap floor, more emphasis will have to be placed on attendance or ticket prices. The club can only cut expenses so much, at some point they have be more concerned about increasing revenue.
Fans will react in different ways concerning this course of action. Some will not like the austerity measures while others will prefer watching a younger, hungrier team. Either way, this will be a very important season for the franchise.
We will be watching the team's salary every step of the way here at Canes Country. As you can see from our "Unofficial Salary Chart", the team is already at $44 million. (That includes salary for Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Oskar Osala, and Zac Dalpe, prospects who may or may not make the team.)
But several others still need contracts, like Justin Peters, Brett Carson, Alexandre Picard, (Anton Babchuk), and Jerome Samson. And even if those players sign minimal deals, it looks like the team will need to cut payroll in order to make everyone fit within the budget. Brind'Amour's $3 million salary becomes an expensive luxury, especially for a 4rth line or even a 3rd line center.
If the club buys him out, the cap number stays the same, (which is meaningless at this point), but the team would save $2 million in cash on the budget this year as they would owe him one million this season and another million the following year.
A Samsonov buyout would save almost as much as he is due to earn $2.8 million this season.
To watch the entire 17 minute interview, check out this link where HM has embedded the video from WRAL.