Carolina Hurricanes

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Under new owner, Hurricanes embrace Hartford Whaler history

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes has a soft spot for his team’s old identity – the Hartford Whalers.

In the month since Tom Dundon assumed control of the Hurricanes, they’ve brought back the old ”Brass Bonanza” fight song, stocked the shelves in the team store with that beloved whale-tail logo and have discussed bringing back the Whalers, too – if only for a future turn-back-the-clock night.

Under his leadership, the Hurricanes have done a 180-degree turn in the way they view, market and appreciate their past.

”It’s ours, right? I mean, it’s who we were. It’s part of the history,” Dundon said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”To me, it makes a lot of sense. … This was too easy. ‘How could I not?’ was probably the better question.”

In the month since Dundon bought a majority share of the team from longtime owner Peter Karmanos Jr., the 46-year-old Dallas businessman has made several changes – most visibly, the embracing of who the Hurricanes were before they became the Hurricanes.

That’s a drastic shift from their approach under Karmanos. He purchased the Whalers in 1994 and moved the franchise to North Carolina three years later, never looking back after seven consecutive losing seasons in Connecticut and complaints about attendance at what was then known as the Hartford Civic Center.

That’s not the case anymore.

The Hurricanes are selling Whalers T-shirts and jerseys – with that distinctive ”H” formed in the empty space between a ”W” and a whale tail – in their team store. They occasionally play ”Brass Bonanza” during stops in play. And Dundon says he’s working with the league on a plan to ”wear the uniform and sort of make it part of what we do” as part of a nostalgia night.

”I think it’s really good-looking stuff, so for me it was like, this is great gear, and this is where we’ve come from, and you know, I think it’s fun,” Dundon said. ”And so for me, this is supposed to be fun, it’s entertainment, and we’re supposed to care about the team, and you see something like that that looks good and creates something to talk about and something to enjoy.”

Not surprisingly, the Whalers’ identity has long had a strong sentimental attraction throughout the hockey world – especially in their former home.

The state of Connecticut is selling Whalers license plates for $60 to help fund new facilities at a children’s hospital. And just last week, Gov. Dan Malloy issued an open letter to Dundon to invite the Hurricanes back to the Hartford area for an outdoor game at Rentschler Field, the UConn football team’s home field, or to play a regular-season game at their former home rink.

Wrote Malloy: ”In short, the Whalers’ spirit is alive and well in Hartford.”

In North Carolina, though, Dundon’s arrival and subsequent appreciation for the team’s green-and-blue past has brought some buzz back to a team that is making a push for just its second playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. He also has quashed those pesky, persistent relocation rumors that have plagued the franchise for years.

Dundon says his fans-first ownership style was influenced by a pair of Dallas-based team owners – Mark Cuban of the NBA’s Mavericks, and Jerry Jones of the NFL’s Cowboys. He ”had a front-row seat to everything they did” as the Mavericks transformed from cellar-dweller to NBA champion.

”I saw what they did with that brand over 10 years, and I don’t think anyone would have believed that the Mavericks could ever be what they became,” Dundon said. ”And with the Cowboys … Jerry has a constant focus on engaging fans and bringing attention to that brand. He thinks, probably, way bigger than I do and takes bigger risks. He’s just a genius at how he operates that team. So I’ve watched these things. I don’t think I’m going to do anything exactly like anyone else, but I’d like to think I can learn from seeing it.”

”We want to make sure that the team’s interesting, and we’re interesting, and right now the story is, the team’s going to make the playoffs and there’s an ownership change,” Dundon said. ”Hopefully in the future, it’s about all the winning we’re doing.”

Carolina Hurricanes owner taking new approach to attendance woes

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New Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is offering up some sweet seats for Tuesday’s game — potentially even his own — to help rekindled that home-ice advantage and to help his team mount run at a playoff spot.  

Dundon extended an invitation to fans sitting in the upper bowl at PNC Arena when the Canes take on the Ottawa Senators, offering them a spot in the lower bowl. If those are taken up, then the suites will open up. And if those are filled to the brim, Dundon will welcome fans into his owner’s box.

“I want the lower bowl to be energetic and packed,” Dundon told the News & Observer’s Chip Alexander on Tuesday. “It’s obvious it’s sort of a playoff push now. We’re going to let the people who want to come down and get a better experience. I think we’re going to run out of tickets so we’re going to have to open up suites … to make sure we take care of as many people as we can.”

Alexander pointed out that the Hurricanes are 30th in the NHL in home attendance at 12,936 for the first 21 games, which is just 69.3 percent of capacity.

A new owner trying to get fans engaged in his team and the on-ice product can’t be a bad thing.

When Dundon became the team’s majority owner earlier this month, he said he wants to win now.

“I value winning more than money,” Dundon said. “But it doesn’t mean I want to burn it.”

Getting fans closer to the action is one thing, but getting them to invest in lower-bowl seats is another.

But Alexander points out that attendance at PNC has been improving recently, noting that the for their Dec. 29 game against Pittsburgh, the turnout was 17,975.

The Dundon Effect seems to be working. Alexander notes that in the three home games since Dundon became owner, the Hurricanes have averaged 15,587 fans.

And this may only be the beginning of Dundon’s efforts.

“I would expect we would do it again because I like the idea,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes and how loud it gets. If it’s loud and I think it’s an advantage I think we’re going to try and do it more. We’ll find out.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Scott Darling on his on-ice struggles, leaving Chicago, new ownership (PHT Q&A)

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Scott Darling‘s first season in Carolina has been less than ideal. When the ‘Canes opened the vault to sign him to a contract last spring, they expected that they’d be getting a solid number one netminder. Instead, Darling and Cam Ward have taken turns being less than stellar.

Darling realizes that he needs to be better if the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs. It’s the first time in a while that he’s hit adversity on the ice and he’s hoping that his hard work in practice and off the ice will pay off between now and the end of the regular season.

During Carolina’s recent trip through Montreal, Darling took the time to speak to PHT about his game, leaving Chicago and the team’s new ownership situation.

Q. How do you evaluate your first half in Carolina? 

DARLING: “Oh, I mean, it’s definitely not good enough. I’ve had some good games and some bad games too and some bad luck, but it’s got to be better. There’s been some uncharacteristic nights for me. I’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks in practice and off the ice working out and stuff like that trying to be as ready as I can the next time I get in the net.”

What are the type of things that have surprised you so far this year?

“I haven’t really faced on-ice adversity in six, seven years. This is uncomfortable (laughs). It’s something I don’t like and it’s something I’m working hard to fix.”

What’s the adjustment like when you go to a new team and a new city after being in Chicago for so long?

“Oh, it’s huge. I was lucky to know a lot of the guys on the team already playing with them before. But it’s a big change in your life. I put down roots in Chicago. I’m from Chicago. I had a house there, I had a life there. So it’s a big change to uproot. New team, new city, new coaches, new system, new everything, so it’s definitely a factor, but I don’t think that’s the deciding factor on what’s going on on the ice.”

How much more difficult is it when you go up on the pay scale? 

“At the end of the day, no matter what, in the NHL you’re making good money. Especially for someone like me who’s played for a lot less. Even making league minimum was huge for me. I don’t really think about the money, it’s just more the outside. The way they look at you, the expectations, but for me personally it doesn’t affect the way I play.”

How has your relationship with a veteran like Cam Ward helped you this season?

“Oh, it’s helped me a lot. He’s a world class guy and a world class goalie. He’s talked me off the ledge a few times. He’s been through the ups and downs, he’s been doing this a long time with this team. He’s seen the dark days, he’s seen the good days. He helps me keep an even keel and keeps motivating me to keep working hard. Everything’s going to turn around. I know I’m a good goalie. I have confidence in myself. Sometimes it rains, but the sun is going to come out eventually.”

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Is this the most adversity you’ve faced at the NHL level?

“Absolutely. At the NHL level for sure. Luckily it’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to face a little adversity. I’m just trying to stay positive because I know what I can do and I know it’s going to turn around.”

What previous experiences have you gone through that can help you get through this?

“I’ve played in the [ECHL], [SPHL], I’ve had dark days down there. At the end of the day, it’s still a great day, you’re in the NHL and you get to be here and play at the Bell Center (on Thursday). So just keeping everything in perspective and staying positive is all you can really do and that’s what I’m doing.”

Did new ownership breathe new life into this locker room? 

“I don’t if it brought new life into the locker room, but it’s changed things which is good. Just our little day-to-day stuff is getting better. The way it’s all ran for us, the resources we have, things we need, just little stuff is already changed. So it’s one less thing to worry about.”

What’s the biggest change so far?

“The big changes are on their way. Right now, just getting more food, healthier food,just little stuff like that. We’re not worried about ordering new equipment. (Thomas Dundon) is doing it right and we’re really excited to have him.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Dundon takes over as Hurricanes’ owner after sale closes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon has taken over as the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

Team officials said the sale closed Thursday, about two months after Dundon signed a purchase agreement to buy a majority stake in the franchise from longtime owner Peter Karmanos Jr. The NHL says its Board of Governors has given its approval.

Karmanos will retain a minority ownership interest in the club he moved from Hartford, Connecticut, to North Carolina in 1997.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is scheduled to appear at a news conference Friday in Raleigh to introduce Dundon. Bettman has said the team is not moving.

Dundon, 46, is the former CEO of Santander Consumer USA, a Dallas-based lending firm. He’s also an investor in the Top Golf chain of golf and entertainment facilities and a key financier of a new golf course in Dallas.

Karmanos had been publicly seeking a local buyer for at least three years. He acknowledged over the summer that he and a group led by former Texas Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg had agreed to a term sheet but did not come to terms on a purchase agreement. He also said he was looking for a sale price of about $500 million.

Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers in 1994 and moved the teamt south three years later.

Reports about another possible relocation have plagued the Hurricanes even as team officials and even Bettman have persistently and repeatedly denied them. Bettman said at the All-Star game in January that ”the club is not moving” and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly echoed that sentiment by saying the league is committed to Raleigh in the same manner it has stuck with the Phoenix area during years of struggles for the Coyotes.

Karmanos in 2015 said ”we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” largely because of the team’s PNC Arena lease, which extends through 2024 and is considered one of the most team-friendly in the league.

In its most recent franchise valuations, Forbes magazine ranked the Hurricanes last in the NHL at $230 million. Bill Foley paid a $500 million expansion fee to the league to bring the Golden Knights to Las Vegas.

The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since 2009 – the longest active drought in the NHL – and entered Thursday night’s game at Washington one point out of a playoff spot and tied for sixth in the Metropolitan Division.

Cam Ward keeping Hurricanes in playoff hunt as Scott Darling struggles

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It seemed simple enough for the Carolina Hurricanes after last season: Find a goaltender and the upward climb should finally begin with the young talent on the roster.

So when general manager Ron Francis traded for Scott Darling’s rights and signed him a four-year deal, it seemed like a problem solved. Darling did an admirable job backing up Corey Crawford with the Chicago Blackhawks and now was his opportunity to take the reins as a regular NHL No. 1 goalie.

Boy, it hasn’t gone well at all.

Darling is currently sporting a .896 even strength save percentage and was in net for all eight goals during last Tuesday’s drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (How soon until head coach gives him the Eddie Lack treatment?)

“It’s been kind of an up-and-down season for me,” Darling told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News after the loss. “Great game, not-so-great game. I can’t really put my (finger) on it. It’s still just goaltending, right? So I don’t really know why I’m having consistency issues. Maybe it’s just the adjustment to a new team, new city, new everything. My whole life is different now, so I’m sure all that stuff factors into it.”

In fact, it’s gone so poorly for Darling and the Hurricanes that Cam Ward, whose play the last few years led to Francis making the trade, has the job again while helping Carolina win his last four starts.

“I’m just enjoying it. You have a newfound appreciation for the game when you see you’re not playing as much and try to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given,” he said after Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres.

We’ll see how long this Ward renaissance lasts, but the end game is to get Darling right because he’s signed through the 2020-21 season at a $4.15 million cap hit. The Hurricanes need that to happen because as Adam Gretz noted earlier this month they’ve finished 18th, 28th, 29th and 26th in team save percentage over the last four seasons. Many have been expecting this team to finally turn the corner and be on the rise, but their production from between the pipes has really been holding them back.

Plus, besides there being a lack of quality options on the market, there’s plenty of competition around the league is trying to shore up their goaltending. The Pittsburgh Penguins would like to add someone. Maybe Garth Snow is close to fully losing his patience with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Plenty want to buy but the goods just aren’t available at the moment.

If Ward, who will start Wednesday vs. Montreal, comes back down to earth, and it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, Darling’s play needs to match up with the expectations laid upon him after the Hurricanes made the deal. It’s a tight squeeze in the Metropolitan Division and Carolina is currently sitting three points out of a wild card spot (thanks, loser point!).

Losing out on extra points due to goaltending isn’t an ideal plan, so whether it’s Ward or Darling for the long-run here, that position can’t sink the Hurricanes once again.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.