On Wednesday afternoon, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos met the media and as usual, it was not a boring event.
The press conference was probably held because it was supposed to be regarding his recent selection to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but Karmanos fielded questions about everything.
I was fortunate enough to attend, made a recording, and took copious notes. This is what happened.
Early on, he was asked if he felt responsible for the Alexander Semin signing.
"Yes, ultimately, I'm responsible for everything," replied the owner. "I do not have to take responsibility for Pittsburgh signing Kessel, however". (And so it begins.)
He then spoke about the emotions concerning being inducted and also mentioned that this is bigger than winning the Cup to him.
He reflected about the early days and remembered when people used to snicker about their brown jerseys and when they were called the "tootsie rolls" and worse.
"I remember a father saying to me back then, as we watched a practice, that the most any of these kids could hope for would be a partial scholarship. That's what the thinking was back in the 70's in the United States, and rightfully so because there were so few American born hockey players. Unfortunately for the fellow making the remark, or fortunately, some of the players out on the ice at that time was a young fellow by the name of Pat LaFontaine, a big defenseman by the name of Al Iafrate, who was huge when he was 16, Kevin Hatcher, and a couple of other players who went on to be drafted."
Karmanos went on a bit more about how and why they got their league started, then mentioned that Mike Vellucci was a player for them at that time. Then suddenly, out of the blue he spoke again about Pittsburgh.
"All right, Pittsburgh has no first round picks anymore. They traded their first round pick from the year before. They traded their first round pick this year and they traded their first round pick for next year. But they do have Kessel, who may score as many goals as Alex Semin did. All right? And I don't have to take credit for that."
He then went back again about his program and said that they were lucky, in a way that they were so successful because they had many excellent players.
After that, he said that they will sell the team in Pittsburgh in a couple of years and the cupboard will be pretty bare by that time and spoke more about the Penguins.
When asked about his own team, Karmanos said that he's never been more excited about a team.
"In two years, if we don't have the very best defense in the league, we will be at or near the top. I believe you build winning teams from the goal line out. I'm very happy with our goalie situation at this point in time. I think in the next year or two, we will have eight top notch guys. "
He was then asked about his relationship and dynamic with his new general manager.
"As owner I stay out of what the GM does, but Ron is far more inclusive. He asks more questions and I give him my opinion, but I also tell him to do what he wants to do, I'm not going to second guess him. He's far more astute on the financial end of the game. Jim liked to talk about the fact that we're a budget team, I'm not sure what that ever meant. Every team has a budget. That means that we had a budget until Jim needed a player and I said okay. Then we would have a different budget."
Next, he was asked about the balancing of bringing in popular players versus talented players.
"Hockey is a team game. People come when the team wins and they don't come as often when the team is losing. And they really don't care, I believe, who the player was. So when you ask why did you sign that $7 million dollar player, take that 7 million and divide it by say $50 dollars a ticket, how many tickets would you have to sell to get back the 7 million? An awful lot of tickets. 1,400,000? So you can't look at it like that and you can't look at it as losing revenue if you trade a certain player. It's a team game as a whole and you have to figure out, will we entertain as a team? If you look closely, we have had an almost complete turnover (of this organization) except for the owner. From the financial end of the business, to the operation of the business. All that is because we want a more positive attitude. A more professional attitude. We needed less worrying about what is going to happen next week."
Karmanos was then asked about Semin again and he got a bit irritated. He started by saying that the line of Tlusty, Staal, and Semin was arguably the best in hockey that first year. "He worked hard, played well, his teammates liked him, so we re-signed him." He then asked the room "what would you guys have said if we didn't re-sign him?"
Jim Rutherford was quoted in the News and Observer as saying that he had to sign Semin to a 5-year deal, otherwise the player would go to Russia. Karmanos was asked if that was true.
"No, I don't believe that. I never heard that," said the owner.
He went on a bit more and then finally gave way to Ron Francis.
Karmanos was not done yet though. He stayed in the meeting room until his general manager was finished then took the floor again.
(The following is strictly from notes and is not verbatum)
He started by saying "that every time something happens, there is one guy in this room, I don't know who it is", (and he looked around from person to person), "who says that the franchise will move. I hate that! It drives me crazy! We would be idiots to move! We have a long term lease in one of the best buildings in the league, with one of the best deals in the league."
Karmanos continued about how they did a long study and chose this location to move from Hartford because it was a fast growing area, it had no other professional sports, and nothing has changed from that. "This is still a fast growing market, one of the fastest growing in the league."
He looked around the room and asked us all, if he was going to move the team, where would he move it? One person said, "Quebec". He responded that if Quebec was such a great market, why did their team move to Colorado? He said it was a small market and didn't draw well.
Another person answered "Vegas".
Karmanos said that if someone wanted to move the team to Vegas, they would have to pay the NHL a $500 million dollar expansion fee. "It's not going to happen. There is not a better market to move to."
Next, he spoke about the Detroit and Chicago markets and mentioned that when they were less successful, they could not draw fans. He said that winning draws fans, losing does not. "It's like that everywhere in the league and everyone knows it."
"They called Detroit the "Dead Things" because they went years and years not making the playoffs in a six or ten team league! You could shoot a cannon off in Joe Louis and not hit anyone! A few years ago, in Chicago you couldn't get 3,000 fans in that arena. Now, three Cups later, they sell out every game. If we would have won two more Cups after our win, we would be selling out every game too."
Karmanos said that there are good fans here and the market is good. Quite simply, if they win more games, more fans will come.
Again, he reiterated that the team is not moving anywhere. The topic is never even discussed. He also closed out by saying that he would not sell the team to anyone who wanted to move it either.
It was another interesting press conference by Peter Karmanos.