Carolina owner takes shots at Penguins, Rutherford
July 2, 2015 9:50 AM
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"I think they’ll sell that team for between $700 and $800 million in Pittsburgh, and the cupboard will be pretty bare by that time," Carolina owner Peter Karmanos said.
Gene Puskar/Associated Press
Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel warms up before the NHL All-Star hockey skills competition in Columbus, Ohio, in January.
Chris Young/Canadian Press/AP
Penguins coach Mike Johnston hasn't said where newly acquired forward Phil Kessel will play and that's OK with Kessel.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It has been, for the most part, a decidedly civil rivalry.
Perhaps because — aside from the Penguins’ sweep in the 2009 Eastern Conference final — the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes haven’t played many high-stakes games. As a result, there rarely seemed to be a hard edge when the teams collided.
Off-ice staffers from both always have seemed to get along well, and prominent figures shuttled between the clubs — Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis was traded to the Penguins in 1991, when the current Carolina franchise was based in Hartford, then returned to the Hurricanes as a free agent in 1997 — without spawning any especially hard feelings.
That might change, though, in the wake of caustic comments Carolina owner Peter Karmanos made Wednesday about the Penguins in a meeting with Raleigh-area media.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, the general manager of Karmanos’ team for two decades before being replaced by Francis in 2014, was a particular target of his barbs.
Karmanos also chided the Penguins for the acquisition Wednesday of winger Phil Kessel and other moves made in accordance with ownership’s win-now mandate.
A Carolina official declined to arrange an interview with Karmanos, and Rutherford turned down an opportunity to address Karmanos’ remarks, but Penguins president/CEO David Morehouse responded to them Thursday evening.
“We’ve all said things we probably shouldn’t say,” he said. “Unfortunately for Mr. Karmanos, he seems to have done it in a press conference.
“Jim’s had nothing but good things to say about his experience in Carolina, about Mr. Karmanos, about how they were able to build a team that won a Stanley Cup [in 2006].”
Whether Karmanos’ jabs will add a little spice to the Penguins-Hurricanes rivalry should be apparent Dec. 19, when the teams meet at Consol Energy Center for the first of four games in the 2015-16 season.
A sampling of Karmanos’ comments:
• On the five-year, $35 million contract Rutherford gave to Carolina winger Alex Semin, who was bought out this week — “Ultimately, I take responsibility for everything. I do not have to take responsibility for Pittsburgh signing Kessel, however.” [The Penguins actually traded for Kessel, who has seven years left on his contract.]
• On the Penguins’ win-now approach — “Pittsburgh has no first-round picks anymore. They traded their first-round pick from the year before. They traded their first-round pick for this year, and now they’ve traded their first-round pick for next year. But they have Kessel, who may score as many goals as, uh, Alex Semin did (six). And I don’t have to take credit for that.”
• On Rutherford’s performance as general manager, compared to that of Francis — “Ron is far more inclusive, so he’s asking a lot of questions and I give him my opinion. … He’s far more astute on the financial end of the game. Jim liked to talk about the fact that we’re a ‘budget team.’ I’m not sure what that ever meant. Every team has a budget. That means we had a budget until Jim needed a player, then I’d say, ‘OK,’ and we had a different budget. Ronnie is a no-nonsense guy when it comes to those kinds of contracts. He’s not worried that he might get criticized if his team doesn’t do as well as people think it should. So he doesn’t panic when it comes to signing players or worrying about that type of thing.”
• On majority owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle’s efforts to sell a portion of the franchise — “The guy’s trying to sell the team. … I think they’ll sell that team for between $700 and $800 million in Pittsburgh, and the cupboard will be pretty bare by that time.”
Morehouse, not surprisingly, disagreed.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” he said. “But I don’t think that having Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang and now Phil Kessel — all at, or under, 30 and under contract for the foreseeable future — constitutes a bare cupboard.”
NOTES — The Penguins signed defenseman Will O’Neill, 27, to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 at the NHL level. He had 10 goals and 38 assists in 72 games with St. John’s of the American Hockey League in 2014-15. … Former Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg was hired as goaltending coach/assistant coach in San Jose, while ex-Penguins defenseman Bob Boughner was named an assistant coach with the Sharks.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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