An Open Letter to Peter Karmanos (from Hartford with rage & squalor)

hc-karmanos-hall-of-fame-whalers-0630-20150629It’s been a while, Pete. I have to admit that while I sat down to write this with the intention of venting my anger for all the damage you’ve done to my city, for the heartbreak you caused when you stole our Whalers from us…the more I think about the more I think I’m as confused as I am angry.

It’s been eighteen years, Pete. Hartford should be a long-forgotten minor-league speed bump, long since receded from visibility in your rear-view mirror. You won your Stanley Cup. You clawed your way into the Hockey Hall of Fame, somehow. You even found a way to take Ronnie Franchise, the heart of Hartford, and keep him away from us in perpetuity. You murdered Hartford, razed the city, pissed on the ashes. So why is that as you achieve hockey immortality and reflect upon your legacy, the only subject that seemed to elicits any passion is Hartford?

In case you forgot, I’m referring to the remarks you made in the Detroit Free Press last week:

“When we went into Hartford, the season before they averaged 6,000 people a game — and that includes games against New York or Boston, where most of the crowd was New York or Boston fans. Hartford’s not a big city. Today, if there was a team in Hartford, it would be the smallest market in the league by a mile. You competed for business with all the New York professional teams, all the Boston profssional teams and even a little bit with the Flyers and Islanders. I don’t know why the people there are so upset. The team hadn’t ever won a thing. They had a celebration for a first-round playoff loss.”

My knee-jerk gut reaction, like that of most Hartford faithful, is to fly into a rage at both the arrogance and inaccuracy of your words about Our Fair City.

We averaged 6000 people the season before you came? Really? The only season I can find under 10,000 is 1979, which Hartford spent in an AHL rink in Springfield after the Civic Center roof collapsed.

Smallest market in the league by a mile? The Hartford metro area is home to 1,215,211, exactly 695 people more than Raleigh, and very few of those people put NASCAR before hockey.

5tDlQNever won anything? I know the World Hockey Association has become an obscure piece of sports trivia these days, but I imagine as a Detroit native you may have followed the exploits of Gordie Howe as he defected to the WHA. Or at some point it may have come to your attention that the franchise which you’ve owned for 21 years began its existence as the New England Whalers of the WHA, AKA the first national champions to claim the Avco World Cup for their own,

Finally, and I admit this is a bit nit-picky, but the parade which was thrown for the Whalers was for a second round  play-off elimination, NOT for a first-round elimination. I’d chalk this up to a mistake if that parade in the heyday of Whalermania wasn’t so unique in being the largest parade ever held in franchise history, outdrawing the Hurricane’s Stanley Cup victory parade by a good 10,000. But I’m sure that’s not news to you.

You’re a lot of things, Pete. The words arrogant, dishonest, destructive, and cancerous all come to mind. But you’re not stupid. Maybe you’ve come to believe the false narrative you had to weave to justify the crimes you’ve committed. We know the story well in Hartford, it’s been repeated so often that some folks mistake it for reality.

You know how it goes: Small-time city stumbles into major leagues, never fills the seats, is mercifully put out of its misery and relegated to minor-league status by the brave governor who stood up to a greedy billionaire and secured our future as New York’s favorite parking lot. Maybe you really have come to believe that, but like I said, I don’t think stupidity is counted among your many sins.

car_toiletIf we agree on nothing else, Pete, it’s the love of hockey. I may hate what you did to my city, but unlike Governor Weicker, who sold you our team knowing it would head south in exchange for a cushy job on the board of Compuware or subsequent Governor (and now twice-convicted felon) John Rowland who happily finished the job in order to chase a pipe dream of landing the New England Patriots, I think in some different world where you didn’t destroy my city we could sit down together and have a beer and shoot the breeze about Gordie Howe. I believe you love hockey. The many millions of dollars you’ve flushed down the toilet (much like the puck and Whalers history flushing down the toilet which is your team’s logo) are irrefutable evidence of our commonality as hockey fans.

I’m writing this today because of your recent harsh words about Hartford, but some other words of yours have stuck with me for many years. A year into the Carolina experiment, having sold a whopping TWENTY-FIVE season tickets for the first season, you came dangerously close to admitting defeat. Too late to help yourself or Hartford, but that quiet admission of guilt has always been some small comfort to me:

To his credit, Karmanos refutes the perception that Hartford is not a big league town. Any team could survive there, he claims, as long as the circumstances were right. “I think (pro sports) is more than capable of surviving in Hartford with the right kind of deal. The governor didn’t understand…how important having a major league team was. They can make all sorts of snide remarks about the Hartford Whalers and all that, but the fact was it was a respected NHL team.”

There’s no way to reconcile these two statements, my old friend. We’re a major league city or we aren’t. We were a respected NHL team or we weren’t.

Almost as telling as the unexpected rage towards Hartford in your remarks to the Detroit Free Press, is your dispassionate tone in discussing the remainder of your legacy.

2006 Stanley Cup? “I don’t live in the past.” 

Your inclusion in the 2015 class of HHOF inductees? “My stats are pathetic — zero goals, zero assists, zero penalties.”

Your future with the Hurricanes? “I don’t know.”

greenIt’s not just in these answers that I began to detect cracks in your facade of arrogance. While the Hurricanes have publicly disavowed their past in Hartford, there remains the matter of the not one, but two, minor league teams you’ve owned with a familiar color scheme and a predilection for the Brass Bonanza, the Plymouth Whalers and the Florida Everblades.

There’s a part of you, Pete, buried beneath that bravado and unwillingness to admit the error of your ways, which is still a true hockey fan. And like all true hockey fans, you know what your legacy will be. Not as the owner of the 2006 Stanley Cup Champions. Not as a 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. Not as the man who brought hockey to NASCAR country. You know what people think when they hear your name, what they will always think long after you’re gone.

Peter Karmanos? Isn’t that the guy who ruined the Hartford Whalers?

two_crowds

THE PRESENT DAY: The Hurricanes play the Blackhawks in front of empty seats (left) A packed house for UConn hockey in Hartford (right)

In 1997, the final season of the Hartford Whalers, we drew an average of 13,680 fans to each game. 18 years later, the Carolina Hurricanes are currently averaging 11,412 per game in those greener pastures. Hartford Whalers merchandise has remained a consistent top-ten seller since it was reintroduced in 2010. Hurricanes merchandise, despite the team actually existing, is markedly less popular.

So I’m not going to rage at you, Pete, no matter how much part of me would like to. It would be like kicking a dying stray dog for growling impotently. You’re still talking about us all these years later for one reason: Hartford is the only part of your legacy that matters, and you botched it in as monumental manner as humanly possible, destroying our market, Raleigh’s, and your reputation in the process.

You want to make it right? Pull the plug on this abomination. Send Ronnie and the franchise home to Hartford. All will be forgiven. Your legacy will amount to something more than a punchline.

Maybe.

hc-the-hartford-whalers-beginning-to-end-20130-044

A dishonest degenerate speaking to a young hero.

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35 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Peter Karmanos (from Hartford with rage & squalor)

    • 1) Picture is from late in the second period versus the Blackhawks. Players from different teams don’t mix during warm-ups. Nice try though.

      2) Blizzard? As a native New Englander I’m dying of laughter at what I imagine you call a blizzard, as well as your using it for an excuse for less than 1000 people showing up to an NHL game.

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  1. Hartford needs to build an Arena before they get another team > But dont expect that anytime Soon , because there is a rumour here in North Carolina the Hartford WOLFPACK might move to Winston-Salem or Greensboro for 2016

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  2. the fact is this – the market is bad for hockey right now in the Triangle. They’ve been out of the playoffs since 2009. Looking at attendance numbers alone can’t justify the relocation of any sports franchise. Even though the canes seem to lose money every other season, their revenue has been increasing w/ a relatively strong TV deal here in the Carolinas.

    Also, the metro are here in the Triangle includes other cities such as durham, chapel hill, cary, etc. It’s a combined metro population of over 2 million.

    I hate fair weather fans and bandwagon jumpers as much as the next guy, but if the canes start winning they’ll come back.

    And to the gentleman who mentioned the pack moving to Greensboro/ WS, where did you hear that rumor?

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    • I get that people who live in Carolina aren’t going to like what I wrote here, and don’t blame y’all for defending the team/market. I do the same for Hartford constantly.

      That said, the Canes are currently drawing less on average than the Whalers were in 1997 and have less season tickets sold. Adjusted for inflation and factoring in the availability of partial season ticket packages (we weren’t given that option), it’s a lot cheaper to buy tickets in Raleigh than it ever was for us. The franchise has a Stanley Cup and some serious play-off runs under it’s belt. The Whalers made it out of the first round in the NHL exactly once. The Whalers hadn’t made the play-offs for five years in 1997.

      The biggest advantages Carolina fails to capitalize on are the big, modern arena and the fact that hockey is more popular overall. Winning teams should draw better, and long stretches of losing can hurt attendance. I just find it hard to justify how Carolina is drawing several thousand less than the Whalers give that all the conditions are either equal or far better.

      I’m sure the diehard fans are good fans, as they always are. But the team is not embedded in the regional culture of Raleigh like it was in Hartford, like teams are in real hockey markets. If they haven’t been able to establish that after 18 years, I don’t think they ever will.

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      • I grew up in Binghamton, NY and was raised an AHL Whaler fan. By default I love Hartford and will forever long to hear the Brass Bonanza behind a Hartford Whaler goal once again. I’ve been living in Raleigh for 6 years now. The Carolina Hurricanes play 20 minutes from here. I can’t bring myself to go to a game. I still love hockey over any other sport. It’s Karmanos… As long as he is there, I won’t be.

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      • Hockey failed in Atlanta Twice ,is failing I’m Az and Hurricanes are dead last on per game fan support for the same exact reasons .
        The NBA ,college sports ,mlb and NFL will Always be far ahead of Ice hockey Nhl in the sun belt Forever. That is why Calgary nd Winnipeg is doing well after two failures of the Nhl in Atlanta.
        Betan pushed teams Imto the Sunbelt for a Nbc TV contract Nothing else. He despite low TV ratings at
        nbc and failed yes sun belt cluns galore , he will Never admit faulty policies.

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    • As far as the Wolf Pack rumor, this guy has argued the point with me many times and he can’t produce a source or any logic backing it up. It’s not gonna happen. They’ll move closer to New York if they move.

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  3. A lot of hatred. A lot of hot air. As far as the “Arena” plan….
    After they figure out how the costs of the soccer stadium exponentially increased fraudulently, do you really think the citizens or private corporations are going to approve any arena improvements?

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    • Who is “they”? The soccer stadium was a municipal project driven almost entirely by a private developer. The XL Center is a state project driven by the Governor’s office and UConn. You’re speaking as if these things are decided all decided by the same shadowy cabal of arena builders.

      There is absolutely no connection between the city council mishandling a minor league soccer deal and the Capital Region Development Authority. As such, it has absolutely no bearing on what occurs with the XL Center except that the soccer débâcle has engendered the ill-informed with a general mistrust of all sporting venues.

      I don’t know if “citizens or private corporations” are going to approve anything, but it isn’t going to be up for referendum so that really isn’t relevant. Do I think that the political will exists to the get the new arena done, given the fact that the alternative would be the XL becoming non-operational and going dark within five years or so? Yes.

      There is essentially zero chance that the state is going to allow the capital city to have no arena and totally abandon not just the pro sports and entertainment tenants who call the XL home, but also relegate UConn athletics completely to Storrs. Suggesting otherwise is the real “hot air” here.

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    • Do you really believe that the State and the Governor are going to get approval to allocate funding for a rehab in the building? Jobs and people are leaving the state in droves. Taxes are being raised. Do you really think the people in Connecticut care about bringing back the Whalers outside of the diehard people like you?

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      • 1) Its a bonded project, they don’t really have to “get approval” other than pushing through some expenditures which are already approved as a formality.

        2) The alternative is having absolutely no facility in Hartford for entertainment, pro sports or UConn. UConn is a cash cow which just brought home it’s tenth national championship. Do I think they will choose to rebuild rather than let the arena go dark within five years? Absolutely.

        They’ve already made blueprints and purchased all the necessary real estate. They’ve made tentative plans for a twenty year partnership in Hartford with UConn. Your opinion, or mine, as to the whether the NHL will return isn’t even relevant to this conversation. NHL is a long-term secondary goal. UConn gets this arena built no matter what.

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    • No, I dont but it wont be a hard vote and the money allocated for this project is done over multiple budgets. It’s not a question of want, for the city to maintain an entertainment distrcit this is a NEED. I am at the point where I can’t see it not happening, NHL or not.

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  4. I lived in the West End off of Asylum Avenue by Elizabeth Park for what seems a million years ago even though it was 1984 when I left. My father and I and some brothers used to go to see the Whalers and Gordie Howe play and he was one of the holdouts for wearing a helmet. I live in Houston now and there is not even a semi-pro team here (Aeros are gone) so I look for club games at local skating rinks and I take my children, but I really miss what I had back when I could watch the Whalers with my dad. Even after all these years of not living there, I think it is terrible the Whalers went away and what it took from the city.

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  5. Great comments on the whalers leaving Hartford…totally agree with the author…as I sit writing this I’m waiting to shoot a rangers game.. yep im one of the camera guys who brings you the all the excitement while you wolf down pig’s in a blanket and beers…I live in Connecticut..born and raised..38 miles from Hartford…I used to be in heaven only having a 45 min commute to work…I watched a once vibrant city dry up like an old prune when the whalers left..been cursing karmanos ever since…probably one of the biggest bone head moves of all time..next to the islanders moving to Brooklyn…here’s a news flash to team owners…FAMILIES make up your fan base…when you price FAMILIES out of being able to afford going to games or move a family fan based team out of its market….you’re cutting your own throat…you lose FAMILIES you not only lose attendance but you lose viewership ratings and cable subscribers..but at this point it’s all in a downhill spiral as kids are all now into attending “gaming” events..and don’t even go out and play sports anymore…why?..because they’re parents couldn’t afford to take them growing up..and schools are getting rid of sports programs..and one more closing remark on moving teams to warmer climates…we all grew up playing hockey on a local frozen pond..if you can’t do that outside in your state in winter you shouldn’t get a team…period….sorry I’m old school.

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  6. Been to Compuware? Didn’t think so. Appreciate all the work Mr. Karmanos has done for youth hockey over the last 4 decades? Didn’t think so.

    The Whalers situation was never optimal and the Canes aren’t exactly blowing anyone away in terms of NHL presence, but that area has a Stanley Cup championship. Meanwhile Karmanos has accomplished so much in building hockey communities across the country and especially in Michigan.

    The author of this piece comes across as whiny and bitter. Mr. Karmanos legacy is not the Whalers failing no matter how much this guy wishes it was. It is his Hall of Fame career in building hockey communities. His impact on USA Hockey far outstrips what this childish author could even dream of.

    Oh and by the way, Karmanos was asked specifically about Hartford in the Freep article. He took the high road otherwise when he said he doesn’t talk about the past and responded to the question dismissively as he should’ve. It’s not “cracks in the facade”- you just wish the failure mattered as much as you think it does.

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    • I’m going to be gentle because you’re clearly personally invested in the youth hockey programs in your local area, to the point where any perceived slight to them or the man who funded them elicits an emotional reaction. I get it. Youth hockey is the origin of my passion for the Whalers.

      It’s clear you have only a passing familiarity with the situation in Hartford, so again I’ll give you a pass. Almost everything he said was factually wrong. By a lot. Whether or not he was asked by the Freep to comment on the matter, he responded petulantly and couldn’t get a single fact straight, and was rightfully called out. Not sorry for that.

      Hartford had it’s up and downs, but Stanley Cup or not, Raleigh under the best circumstances has worse attendance numbers than Hartford did under the worst circumstances. That is an indisputable fact and I won’t argue the simple math. We were and are the better market, and after 18 years of being unable to keep attendance above 10,000, I am entirely comfortable calling Raleigh a failed experiment.

      It’s great that he has contributed to USA Hockey, but you’ll have to forgive me if I’m skeptical of the role ego plays in the motivations of a man who has forced cities to name roads after him and is having his own franchise throw a ceremony to honor him this Saturday. I don’t question his passion for hockey, but he treats it as a hobby and a means to stroke his ego. The only competence he has displayed is in his ability to throw massive amounts of money at teams. Great for those who benefited, but he literally bought his way into the HHOF.

      Let’s talk about another more deserving HHOF inductee, one who our states have in common. Gordie Howe. Gordie earned his place in the HHOF in a very long career on the ice, and continued to earn it long after retiring. Very few people know this, but Gordie continued to live in and play hockey in Hartford for a decade after his retirement. He dedicated himself to youth hockey, playing many alumni games for the Whalers against youth teams. Gordie and the Whalers baptised thousands of hockey fans, got rinks built, funded programs and changed lives. And he did it quietly. He never sought praise, never demanded ceremonies be held for him or anything be named in his honor.

      For someone who claims to value hockey communities, you sure are quick to dismiss the damage Karmanos did to those in Connecticut. The foundation built by Gordie and the Whalers who followed still remains to this day, but it is slowly decaying after 18 years without a patron. What doesn’t remain are the many charities the Whalers ran, most notably their Children’s Cancer Fund. I have friends whose treatment was funded by that program, who had players personally come to the aid of their families when they were sick.

      Peter Karmanos came to this market with the intention of moving this team, without a clue or a care about the damage which would be done. He remains utterly clueless and callous to this day. Throwing money at youth hockey (while spending an equal amount ensuring that he is publicly glorified for having done so) in no way negates his crimes.

      I apologize for nothing.

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    • Been to Hartford Whalers games? Didn’t think so. Ever seen a bitter owner put out falsehoods about your market out to the mainstream media, 18 years later? Didn’t think so. Sorry, Karmanos earned and deserved every word he recieved from this piece and more. I hope your involvement in youth hockey does include teaching players to let other players walk all over you?

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  7. I can see these comments are moderated so I doubt you will have the stones to publish what I wrote which is a damn shame. Just know that this piece is an absolute joke and you have little place to try to tear down a Hall of Fame hockey legacy let alone judge one, try as you did.

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    • Not only do I have the stones to publish your comment, but I’m the only one here not hiding behind anonymity.

      Moderation is the site’s default, not my choice. Condescending about “stones” and bravery from the position of an anonymous internet troll is pretty rich.

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    • Hey Whaler fans have been fair, Peter Karmanos is going into the Hall of Fame because of his great charity work but not for what he has done with his team on the ice. He blew it big time. Left a 14k average attendance to a southern market that is averaging(19 years later) several thousand below that. You can pretend he has a legacy but in reality he made the biggest financial blunder when he left one small thing in Hartford. http://www.examiner.com/article/why-whaler-fans-should-thank-peter-karmanos

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  8. Nice piece. Even though I’m a Rangers fan, I always found the Whale as the lovable underdog worth rooting for; especially in those Adams Division battles with the Habs & the Bs. I always wondered where that franchise could’ve gone had they not shipped off Francis & Ulfie at the ’91 deadline. That deal will always be in the running for the most lopsided hockey trade ever.

    Couldn’t agree more with your comments. I think it’s been proven, repeatedly; hockey doesn’t work in the South. Sun Belt teams may have won two or three random Cups, but business wise they make up in the bottom 3rd in NHL attendance & net worth almost every year. (Tampa being the exception in attendance). Teams like the Coyotes have yet to turn a profit after 20 years in the Desert. Florida has lost close to $99M in the past two seasons. The NHL, Bettman in particular is just too stubborn to admit this & pull the plug. What Gary wants, Gary gets. I digress… Bring back the Whale!

    Wondering if you can share a link or discuss further the 25 season tickets the Canes sold in their inaugural season? That sounds like a fascinating story that was completely swept under the rug by the league!

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    • Thanks for the comments! The abysmal 25 season tickets came as a result of Karmanos arrogantly refusing to discount the price per seat on full season packages in the inaugural season. Despite making a lot of noise about how he would never discount tickets, he relented shortly thereafter in response to incredibly low attendance.

      Here’s a (very) long form telling of those early years: http://sophia.smith.edu/~jeue/John/pete.html

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  9. My dad took my uncle to the last Whaler game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dad have a few games on DVD, so I can watch my Whalers, even if I wasn’t born in 95. When dad takes me to a Lightning Hurricane game, we where our Whalers shirts.

    Dad told me that LPWiecker killed the Whalers. Peter stole the team from a Connecticut person who wanted to keep them in CT. That person had a deal, but Wiecker, who ruined the state with an income tax, wanted PK (or as I calls him PuKe) to have them.

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  10. Pingback: Peter Karmanos Needs to Stop Talking

  11. Pingback: MAKING A RELOCATION, PART SIX: Dirty Deeds (Done for $45 Million) | exile on trumbull street

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