RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis believes the team’s future is secure in North Carolina.
Francis on Thursday became the latest high-ranking person to rebut reports the team is a candidate for relocation; currently the NHL is weighing its options for possible expansion.
“From Day 1, everybody’s said the same thing,” Francis said. “We like this market, we’ve got a great lease with the arena here and we believe in this market.”
Organization officials have maintained that the Hurricanes aren’t going anywhere, but they’ve still had to spend much of an exasperating offseason shooting down the possibility.
In a meeting with media members to discuss the NHL draft, Francis was asked about the reports and said, “It’s been going on forever, and despite everything we say to the contrary, it doesn’t seem to go away.”
He said he’s had “zero contact from (people in the) league who would tell me anything differently” about the team’s future.
The main off-the-ice item on the NHL’s agenda is whether to expand to Las Vegas and/or Quebec City, with a decision expected to be finalized June 22 when the league’s board of governors meets.
The options include putting a new club or clubs in place for the 2017-18 season, declining to expand or deferring to a later date. A city bypassed for expansion could try to court an existing team.
Peter Karmanos Jr., the team’s 73-year-old owner, announced his desire two years ago to find a local buyer who will take on part or all of his majority interest, but he wants to remain in charge as part of what he called his “succession plan.”
Questions about the Hurricanes’ financial situation arose in recent weeks after Karmanos was sued by three of his adult sons for $105 million in a Michigan court. The sons say he defaulted on the repayment of a loan he took out from a family trust and used it to support the team.
Commissioner Gary Bettman told SiriusXM Radio this week that the lawsuit “led to unfortunate speculation about the Hurricanes” that is “unfounded.”
“The fact of the matter is, that franchise has been in good hands, remains in good hands and we don’t see that changing in the near future,” Bettman said. “And frankly, we don’t see the franchise relocating anywhere.”
On the ice, it’s been a struggle lately for the Hurricanes, who reached two Stanley Cup finals and won their lone title in 2006. They’ve only made the playoffs once since then (2009) and their current seven-year drought is the longest in the Eastern Conference.
Not surprisingly, attendance fell: Carolina ranked last this season both with an average home attendance of 12,204 at the 18,680-seat PNC Arena and at just 65 percent of capacity. That was their lowest per-game average since they moved into the building for the 1999-2000 season.
But there’s tangible reason for optimism, with a roster stocked with young players making a late playoff push last season and raising expectations to make the postseason in 2016-17.
Karmanos said last July that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” largely because of the team’s lease for PNC Arena. It extends through 2024 and is considered one of the most team-friendly in the league.
Under the agreement, Gale Force Sports and Entertainment — which operates both the team and the arena — receives all parking and concession revenue from events at the arena except those involving North Carolina State, which plays its men’s basketball games there.
It also shares the naming rights revenue with the school and the Centennial Authority, the group responsible for maintaining and improving the arena.
Both Jeff Merritt, executive director of the Centennial Authority, and Clyde Holt, the Authority’s general counsel who negotiated the agreements, declined comment.