16 January, 2006

There are three sides to every story.

The other day, I received the following e-mail from a reader of mine (posted with his permission):

Hey AQ -

I've really enjoyed reading your blog, I share most of your opinions...
and some I don't! :-) But you have grown to be an authority of all
things 'Canes IMO, so I've decided to ask you about a rather well-worn

You seem to have a take on why the Whalers moved the Carolina, and if
it's not too much bother, I'd like to know your opinion.

So far, I've heard from some Whalers fans who feel it was an out-n-out
thieft, my brother who's kinda Whalers fan who seems to believe the same
thing, and a fellow on the Yahoo messageboards who seems to be much more
Karmanos-friendly about the subject.

Thanks for your time and any reply you can render...

I was going to answer it in private e-mail, but decided to post about it here. This will be unpalatable to some who seem to want to paint Pete Karmanos as The Great Satan, but that's not my problem. My information comes from people like Hartford Whalers season ticket holders and others who are privy to far more information than you or I. Believe it or don't believe it--my sole interest has always been the hard truth, unflattering or uncomfortable as it may be.

That said:

In my honest opinion, the move didn't necessarily need to happen--but it did, so here you go. When looking back at the move, there were three parties that contributed to what happened:

The State of Connecticut

The state legislature was slow in coming up with an arena deal. They came up with kind of a half-assed offer, but it was bogged down in a lot of politicking and so didn't get very far, and was not helped by the fact that Uncle Pete was pretty slack in barracking for a deal. I suspect that he would have gladly agreed to an arena deal that he felt was right--but he didn't want to put any actual work into it. I also suspect that his demand that he be reimbursed for all losses he had sustained since buying the Whalers was simply a bluff, and that had he gotten an arena deal comparable to the one he enjoys now at the RBC Center, he'd have backed down.

John Rowland, then-Governor of Connecticut:

Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate #15623-014 was not a fan of hockey, and was only too happy to see the Whalers leave. His comments at the press conference after the move was announced were nothing more than crocodile tears. Rowland was of the opinion that UConn hoops players made better role models than guys like Kevin Dineen, Stu Grimson, Pat Verbeek, Ron Francis, and other Whalers players who did so much to help the community. He essentially told the Whalers not to let the door hit them even as he was publicly mourning their departure for the benefit of the voters, despite what revisionists on either side may say. This is the man who decided to mortgage Connecticut's treasury in an attempt to win the Patriots away from Foxboro (though the Pats never intended to leave in the first place), and yet said "fuck you" to the professional sports franchise in his own backyard.

Peter J. Karmanos, Jr.

Pete's reason for moving boils down to something pretty simple: he wanted a much better deal than he had at the Mall. Could he have gotten a better deal in Hartford? Certainly not at the Mall. The deal that Pete Karmanos has in the RBC Center is one of the best in hockey, if not in pro sports. Had the CT legislature been quicker, a little more on the ball, possessed of a lot more foresight and done their best to ego-stroke Pete into staying (something that, IMO, could have been accomplished despite apparent signs that Pete was planning to move the team all along), I honestly believe that the Whalers would still be in Hartford and I'd still be calling myself an Oilers fan. The man is impatient, has a tendency to be petty and let his ego get the better of him (Fedorov offer sheet, anyone?), tends to give in to his temper and pop off without thinking (and at what seems to be the most inopportune moments), and isn't really possessed of all that much vision. How he became a billionaire is a mystery to me, seriously.

The Move Itself

The Hartford Whalers' move to North Carolina was possibly one of the worst-handled moves in sports history--better than Bob Irsay's midnight flight to Indianapolis and better than Norm Green's flat-out lying to the people of Minnesota, but worse than Art Modell's move of the Browns v1.0 to Baltimore. Pete could have milked the sympathy card for all it was worth by staying those last two years in Hartford and pointing to the Legislature's foot-dragging on a new arena and Rowland's indifference to it all as his reasons for deciding to move on, while wallpapering the Carolinas with a huge marketing blitz as the ESA (now the RBC Center) was being built. Fans could have gotten to watch Whalers games on the tube down here, the fans in Hartford would have been able to give their team a proper farewell, Whalers management would have had time to get their ducks in a row and get ready for the move, things could have gotten off to a much more auspicious start down here, and the pain would have been dulled as much as possible. Uncle Pete could have come out of it smelling like a rose rather than a stinking corpse lily if he'd just shown a little foresight and actually put some thought into things rather than pulling up stakes and spending two years taking a great big shit all over the people of the Triad (for you out-of-staters: Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point) and not doing a damn thing to promote the team down here other than to effectively say "we're here, come see us!"

Pete Karmanos gave in to his temper and his impatience and his ego, and we got what we have today--an war between two fanbases that burned white-hot until about three or four years ago (though people like the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs do try to fan the flames every now and again), antipathy toward hockey in a good chunk of North Carolina (thanks to the Hurricanes' horrible handling and treatment of the Triad during the Greensboro years), random embittered folk waging brushfire wars of lies and half-truths on various message boards and blogs in a futile attempt to exact some kind of pointless vengeance, and of course lots and lots of acrimony and needlessly hurt feelings on all sides. All because of a man who lets his own ego trip him up, a legislature that was slow to act, and a criminal in state office that aided and abetted it all.

And that's my take.