October 1: Canes general manager Jim Rutherford sets a deadline of noon for holdout captain Keith Primeau to accept a two-year, $7 million offer, down from their previous offer of five years at $20 million. When Primeau refuses the offer, Rutherford strips him of the team captaincy and drops the offer to a two-year deal worth $6 million. "That offer will sit out there for a few months if the player wants to sit out for that long," Rutherford tells the News and Observer. "The fact that Keith has chosen not to join us for our first game means that I don't see him joining us a week later or two weeks later." Former Whaler Ron Francis is named the 12th captain in franchise history; he held the title with the Whalers from February 1985 until the 1990-91 season.
Whalers sidelight: The hockey comedy "Mystery, Alaska" opens. Starring Russell Crowe and Burt Reynolds, the movie is scripted by prolific television writer David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice"). Entertainment Weekly (which gives the film a C for its "unchecked whimsy") is perhaps the only national news outlet to note that Kelley is the "son of ex-Hartford Whalers coach Jack Kelley." The elder Kelley was the first coach and director of hockey operations for the WHA Whalers, leading the team to the AVCO Trophy in the league's first season and staying with the club for its first two years in the NHL. The film is produced by Howard Baldwin, one of the founders of the Whalers. Baldwin later served as president of the WHA and played a pivotal role in the league's merger with the NHL. He sold the team in 1988 and would later hold part ownership of the Minnesota North Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins.
October 2: The Hurricanes open the 1999-2000 season with a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins. Like Carolina, Boston is missing a key player in Vezina-finalist goalie Byron Dafoe, and drops its home opener for the first time in more than a decade. Ray Bourque gives Boston a 1-0 lead when he scores his 386th career goal 1:42 into the second period, moving him into the lead on the NHL's career scoring list for defensemen. Carolina's Paul Coffey, who is not in the lineup, falls into second place with 385.
October 7: the Canes continue their road odyssey with a visit to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers outshoot the Hurricanes 11-0 in the first half of the second period, 15-6 overall, but come up short in a 2-0 loss, the first time in their history they have gone scoreless in their first two games.
The Canes' fast start out of the gate does not sway the feelings of free-agent center Keith Primeau. "Keith didn't reject the last offer so that the team could go 0-6; he rejected it because the deal wasn't right," his agent says. "Whether the Hurricanes start off 2-0 or 0-2 isn't an indication of what kind of team they have." There has been no contact between the sides since October 1, when Primeau spurned the Canes' reduced offer of $6 million for two years and the club stripped him of the captaincy.
The News and Observer's Cecil Harris
is critical of the team's stance in negotiations. "The Canes
need to explain how they expect to entice people to buy tickets
for their new arena if the team's premier player, whom they displayed
on season-ticket brochures and in television commercials alongside
noted hockey authority Richard Petty, is not being offered a
salary close to the highest on the team," he writes. "The
Canes found the money to make Petty their 'official spokesman'
for half a season. The cost, which they won't make public, could
not have been cheap. If every person who bought Canes season
tickets because of Petty's appeal met me for lunch, we might
be able to fill a small booth at a diner."
October 13: Former Whaler Sami Kapanen scores with 1:51 left in regulation to salvage a 3-3 tie against the Oilers, boosting the Canes' record to 2-1-2 on their nine-game road trip. Defenseman Paul Coffey, who won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers and one with the Penguins, comes off the bench for his first game of the season and is held pointless. Coffey, 38, has played for Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, Hartford, Philadelphia, Chicago and Carolina since being traded by Edmonton following the 1987-88 season. The Canes are 0-3 on power plays and are 1-19 with the man advantage this season.
October 21: Former Whaler Kevin Dineen, signed by Ottawa in the off-season, plays his 1,000th NHL game when the Senators face the Avalanche at the Corel Centre in Kanata. The game comes just one day after Dineen's father Bill is inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. Dineen's first NHL game came at the Montreal Forum, a game the Whalers lost 9-4 to the Canadiens, and Dineen was on the ice for four Habs goals. "It was a pretty humbling experience," he tells the Ottawa Sun. Dineen is the 139th player in league history to reach the 1,000-game milestone. "I had to work hard to get into the NHL and I had to work hard to stay in the NHL," he says. "That's the way it's always been. Through my career, I've never been the most talented guy on the ice, but certainly effort has carried me a long way."
The Hurricanes announce that they have sold 6,000 season tickets for their first season in Raleigh. The News and Observer notes that this figure is among the lowest in the National Hockey League, "where most teams top 10,000 and the expansion Atlanta Thrashers have sold 13,000 for their inaugural season." The team has leased 56 of its 58 luxury boxes, which accounts for 625 to 635 of the season-ticket sales. North Carolina State University's men's basketball team, which will share the new Raleigh arena with the Hurricanes, has sold a record 13,000 season tickets. "In 1997," the paper notes, "when the Hurricanes NHL franchise relocated from Hartford, Conn., owner Peter Karmanos said he believed the team would average 15,000 to 16,000 a game once they got into the new arena. He now says building season-ticket sales, to some degree, is a question of expectations.... The Canes averaged 9,108 fans their first season in Greensboro -- a figure that included many free tickets and discounts -- and 8,188 last season." The Canes' arena debut will be against New Jersey, and the game has been announced as a sellout.
October 25: Don and Todd Reynolds, agents for Keith Primeau, say the team's former captain and leading scorer will never play for the team again. Primeau will put his house in Cary up for sale and play for the Canadian national hockey team, which offers no salary. "The Hurricanes have dictated that Keith Primeau will not be playing for the team for one cent more than $3 million a year, and that is totally unacceptable," says Todd Reynolds. "If Jim Rutherford has any business sense, he'll offer Keith Primeau in a trade. Keith will not play again in Carolina." Rutherford confirms that he spoke with Don Reynolds on Monday and reiterated that the team would not increase its two-year, $6 million offer to Primeau. "Keith's wish is not to play here again, and our wish is that he does play here and we will stick to our position that we won't trade him," Rutherford says.
October 25: The Canes hold their first practice in their new home, the Entertainment and Sports Arena. "It's a great-looking building," coach Paul Maurice says. "Everybody was sort of skating around and staring into the stands." Finishing touches are still being put on the building, which opens October 29. Goalie Arturs Irbe gives the ice surface his conditional endorsement. "It was really good -- for the first 10 minutes," he says. "It's hard, and it chips. It needs time to be broken in. But it's no worse than any other building in the league. It'll be fine."
October 27: City building inspectors issue a temporary occupancy permit just after lunchtime, a few hours before the doors of the new arena are scheduled to be thrown open to the public. A hastily arranged open house attracts a crowd of fans, three teams of which are ushered into a trio of bathrooms on the main concourse for the symbolic first flushing of the arena's toilets. On a cue from the Hurricanes' promotions director, the dozen or so men standing at a bank of urinals take two steps back, and the automatically triggered plumbing goes into action. A cheer goes up. For their trouble, all receive a pair of free tickets to an upcoming Canes game. (Several toilets exploded on opening night of Denver's new Pepsi Center earlier in the month.) Concession proceeds from the open house are earmarked for victims of Hurricane Floyd in eastern North Carolina.
With the opening of the new arena, team owner Peter Karmanos hopes to break even the first year, and thinks the team can soon turn a profit. Operating the arena is "going to give us all kinds of sources of revenues we didn't have in Hartford or Greensboro," Karmanos tells the News and Observer. The team is banking on profitable returns from skybox leases, advertising deals, parking fees, TV broadcast rights and sales of concessions and souvenirs. Karmanos says that to break even, the Hurricanes need to average about 14,000 fans for 41 home games, which seats 18,176 for hockey. "We think that's a conservative figure for a market like the Triangle." At that rate, he says, the team would net about $575,000 a year from parking revenue and $2.3 million from concessions. The Hurricanes will collect $6 million to $7 million from suite rentals the first year, Karmanos says. "It's not bad; it's not great. It's certainly better than Hartford, where we got zero." (Karmanos neglects to mention that the deal he was offered to stay in Hartford would have given him luxury box revenue in a new arena.) A few years down the road, Karmanos hopes the team's TV contract will be worth as much as $6 million a year; the current three-year contract with Home Team Sports and Fox Sports South is for about $2 million. The Hurricanes have invested about $40 million in arena construction and equipment, and will pay $3 million annually in rent for the first three years, minus up to $275,000 a year in operating expenses. Karmanos insisted on a cost-free, rent-free arena to stay in Hartford.
October 29: The unveiling of the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena draws a sellout crowd of 18,730 as the team returns from an NHL record-tying nine-game road trip that produced a 4-2-3 record. Traffic jams on roads to the arena result in a number of vacant seats for the opening ceremonies, the Canes are outshot 12-6 in the first period and New Jersey scores three goals in a three-minute span early in the third period to spoil the party for the Canes, who christen the arena with a 4-2 loss. Carolina leads 1-0 after two periods, but goaltender Arturs Irbe lets in a soft goal by 26-year-old rookie Brian Rafalski 51 seconds into the third, and Krzysztof Oliwa and Petr Sykora follow shortly thereafter. Carolina is 0-for-4 on the power play. The Canes' Andrei Kovalenko's rebound goal early in the second period is the first NHL goal in the building; the game marks the 1,000th NHL appearance of New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko -- all with the Devils.
In town for the opening, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman predicts the new building will solidify the team's financial future. The market, he says, is ripe for professional hockey. "I think it marks what is the beginning of a new, successful era for the Hurricanes in Raleigh, in North Carolina," Bettman says. He adds that he is not concerned about the Canes selling only about 6,000 season tickets in a building that seats 18,176 for hockey. "The season-ticket count for me isn't an issue at all," he says. One wonders if he would have been equally unconcerned had one of the four expansion franchises, which had to sell a minimum of 12,000 season tickets before they were admitted into the league, had sold only half that number...
What is it with this team and curtains, anyway? Fans who tried to watch the team's opening ceremonies via the arena's Internet Webcam were treated to a view of the interior of the arena and a shot of the raising of the team's Southeast Division championship banner -- which then blocked the camera's view for the rest of the evening.
Former Whaler and current Canes captain Ron Francis sets three personal milestones, tying Mario Lemieux for sixth on the all-time scoring list in a 7-3 loss October 22 in Buffalo; tying Gordie Howe for fifth on the assists lists November 5 in a 3-2 loss to Detroit; and passing Howe November 11.
A disturbing trend? Carolina's record in their new arena:
Tuesday, November 16: Bloomberg.com, the Web site of the Bloomberg news organization, runs an article that your humble Webmaster himself might have written. "Carolina Hurricanes Blown Off Course By Financial Troubles," by Barry M. Bloom, recounts the tale of woe that your Webmaster has been detailing for the past two years. It's an article no Whalers fan will want to miss -- and so I've provided a link to it.
That same day, Canes owner Peter Karmanos announces that he has dismissed three of his top executives and will take over daily oversight of Gale Force Holdings. Dean Jordan, chief executive; Jon Kennedy, chief financial officer; and Sims Hinds, vice president for arena management; are out. "The timing of the surprise house cleaning," notes the News and Observer, "fueled speculation that Karmanos is unhappy with arena ticket sales, vexing traffic jams and other problems. However, Karmanos said...that those matters were not what prompted him to fly to Raleigh on Monday to deliver the bad news in private meetings with his executives. He said he had known for 'two or three months' that a change was needed. 'They're not bad people, and nothing terrible happened...There's nothing wrong with the performance that they're being punished for. I just felt we needed to restructure. I wasn't happy with the situations at work, and I needed to get more directly involved.'"
Among other responsibilities, Karmanos will take over negotiations with North Carolina State University on the naming rights to the arena. Perhaps as a conciliatory measure, Karmanos says that Gale Force is responsible for the maroon seats in the building. Under a contract with the arena authority, NCSU stipulated that the seats match the red in its uniforms. In September, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox wrote the authority about her displeasure, saying "We absolutely reject the color of the fabric being installed." "I'm not going to ruin our relationship with the university over a $600,000 item," Karmanos says. "We will replace them -- done."
Among those to benefit from the coup are fans; Karmanos announces a "family night" promotion of four tickets, four hot dogs and four soft drinks for $64 at every home game. The promotion had previously been scheduled for just 14 home dates.
November 19: former Whaler and current Canes defenseman Paul Coffey, number 1 all-time among NHL defensemen in points and assists, scores his first goal in 39 games in a tie at Washington.
November 21: The Bloomberg article has a ripple effect in the media. Pat Hickey, writing in the Montréal Gazette: "We have our doubts that the Whalers would have prospered with a new arena, but we've said all along that the Whalers -- rechristened the Hurricanes -- were a bad match for Carolina. That's why we appreciated the reaction of Hartford residents who were overjoyed to receive a report earlier this week that Karmanos, who was losing his shirt here, is losing the rest of his wardrobe in Raleigh, N.C....The Hurricanes' first game was a sellout, although we've heard that this feat was achieved by papering the house, that is, giving away tickets to avoid the embarrassment of a half-empty arena. The average attendance has since dipped below 14,000, with one crowd below 10,000."
Forbes magazine publishes its annual report on the value of professional sports franchises. Among NHL teams, the New York Rangers top the list at $236 million; the Philadelphia Flyers at $210 million; and the Boston Bruins at $197 million. Bringing up the rear are the Calgary Flames at $78 million; the Edmonton Oilers at $72 million; and Carolina Hurricanes at $70 million.
The Canes close out November by hosting Calgary. George Johnson, writing in the Calgary Sun: "Before a crowd (using the word loosely) that could've crammed into a jumbo-sized sandbox -- announced, rather generously, at 7,903 -- Calgary gassed a 3-1 lead distressingly late in the second period, eventually beaten 4-3 by Carolina to fall to 0-2 on this six-game road trip." A pre-game ceremony honors former Canes and Calgary defenseman Steve Chiasson, who died in an car accident in May.
December 2: Less than two minutes from victory, and a first-place tie with the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division, a defensive breakdown leads to a 2-2 ties with the Maple Leafs. The game draws 9,367; there is no ACC basketball on local TV. The Leafs' November 3 visit to Raleigh, a 6-0 win for Toronto, drew 15,961.
December 4: the Canes take a five-game unbeaten streak (two wins, three ties) on the road, and have the bad luck to start their trip in Colorado; the franchise has not beaten the Avalanche since February 9, 1996 -- when they were the Hartford Whalers. The Canes, who had scored seven power-play goals in their previous five games, go 0-4 with the man advantage and run their record against the Avs to 0-5-2 with a 1-3 loss.
Former Whaler sidelight: Chicago's Michael Nylander scores four goals on five shots December 4 as the Hawks trounce the Bruins 9-3 in Boston. Nylander was the selected by the Whalers in the third round (59th overall) of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft; he was traded, with James Patrick and Zarley Zalapski, to the Calgary Flames for Ted Drury, Paul Ranheim and Gary Suter on March 10, 1994. Nylander notched his last hat trick in Ottawa on April 7, 1993 as a member of the Whalers.
December 10: The Canes wrap up a four-game road trip by falling 3-1 to Tampa Bay, their first loss to a Southeast Division rival this season. Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier scores his club-leading ninth goal of the season 4:48 into the first when he picks off an errant Paul Coffey pass. Former Whaler Paul Ranheim has a go-ahead goal waved off and Gary Roberts is penalized for goaltender interference on the play. Ron Francis notches his 1,057th career assist to tie Mark Messier for fourth place on the all-time list.
December 18: Canes goalie Arturs Irbe is yanked 5:44 into the game after allowing two goals on four shots, leaving the Canes down 2-0 to Atlanta. But the Canes outscore Atlanta 3-0 in the second period and Eric Fichaud, playing for only the sixth time in 32 games, keeps Carolina in the game as the Canes beat the Thrashers 4-2 to break a three-game losing streak. Announced attendance: 10,187.
December 22: With the Canes trailing Detroit 2-1, Sami Kapanen carries the puck down the right wing and into the Wings' zone -- and the lights go out at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, plunging the building into blackness. Officials halt play until light is restored and the subsequent faceoff is moved out of the Wings' zone. Detroit goes on to win 4-1. "Legions of Red Wings fans in a crowd of 15,375 made the ESA sound like Joe Louis Arena South," notes the News and Observer. The Canes drop to 13-14-7, 10 points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.
In a letter to Keith Primeau, Carolina gives him a deadline of December 28 to accept a two-year, $6 million contract or play no hockey in 1999-2000. Primeau throws the letter away. "Nothing in the letter said that my season was finished," Primeau says. "It said that the Hurricanes would not shop me. But that doesn't stop anybody else from calling the Hurricanes and making an offer for me." General manager Jim Rutherford says that if Primeau didn't sign this time, the Canes were prepared to let him sit for the remainder of the season. Primeau reiterates in an interview with the News and Observer that he doesn't want to play for Carolina. Primeau proposed a four-year, $17 million deal two weeks ago, but the Canes rejected it. General manager Jim Rutherford reports that he has told Canes players that Primeau was not likely to rejoin the team.
Reports circulate that a deal to swap Primeau to the Phoenix Coyotes for center Jeremy Roenick or left winger Keith Tkachuk were scuttled by Canes owner Peter Karmanos. "I got a call from my agent Tuesday saying that the Hurricanes were close to trading me and that the financial terms had been worked out. Then I got another call Tuesday night saying that the deal was off," Primeau tells the News and Observer. "I would hate to think that this trade was killed out of spite or animosity or to hurt me or my family." Karmanos had said that he would review any contract another team wanted to offer Primeau and would nix a trade if he thought that team wanted to pay Primeau too much money, because that would affect what the Hurricanes would have to pay a player in arbitration.
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