Michael KahnThe biggest Charlotte Checkersnews in the last 48 hours is that the Charlotte Checkers, the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate for the New York Rangers since the 1994-1995, have decided to become the American Hockey League (AHL) and have agreed to become the Carolina Hurricane’s top development team.

Michael Kahn is the owner of the Charlotte Checkers. He is also a governor of the ECHL. Kahn purchased the Checkers in June 2006.

According to his biography, “the Atlanta, Georgia native has been involved in the family-owned wine and spirits business all his life. He is vice president/COO of a company that was started by his grandfather back in 1940, Empire Distributors Inc. In terms of his personal interests, Kahn is a big supporter of the University of Georgia which has an athletic training facility that bears his name and he has funded numerous athletic and academic scholarships. He is a major contributor and serves on the board of directors for The Fletcher School in Charlotte, which has a building named in his honor on its new campus. Kahn, who has been nominated as the Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year, resides in Charlotte with his family.”

Kahn spoke with Howlings today and answered a number of Checkers, Rangers and Wolf Pack related questions:

Howlings: “Did you feel over the course of the relationship that you had with the Rangers that you got the most out of it that you could?”

Kahn: “I thought we had a very good relationship with New York. This move has nothing to do with our relationship with the Rangers. I consider it to be an excellent relationship to the extent that they were happy for us. They thought it was a good move on our part.”

Howlings: “Was there ever an opportunity to expand with the Rangers under their umbrella?”

Kahn: “I don’t know if I would have done it. One of the sole reasons that I made this move was the synergy I believe that will exist between, obviously Charlotte, Raleigh and the Carolina Hurricanes. That more than anything precipitated the expediency of this move. If it had been Nashville, Atlanta or even the Rangers, we’d have explored it, probably, but I don’t think that I would have moved on it the way that I moved on it. I mean basically Carolina came to us and presented us and said, ‘Look, this is where we want our AHL affiliate.’ So I knew that I had their support and backing through the whole thing.”

Howlings: “So do you know what’s going to happen with the AHL affiliations. It seems to us that there hasn’t been so much talk of movement in a year like this?”

Kahn: “You know with economic times, honestly I don’t know. I’m new to the AHL. I’ve met some of the guys, but I have no idea how things are going to be changing other than what’s already happened with Edmonton.” (editor’s note: they’re leaving Springfield and moving to Oklahoma City next season)

Howlings: “If you were to make a guess, do you think the Rangers will stick with Hartford?”

Kahn: “Uh, this is a sheer guess, I honestly don’t know, but I would think probably that they don’t know.”

Howlings: “You just brought up the economic times that we’re in right now are pretty tough. It seems that minor league hockey seems to thrive in non-traditional hockey markets while the NHL is struggling to get a hold in the major markets. Why do you think that is?”

Kahn: “I think there are several factors.One of the things obviously that we’ve done down here is, we’re in a professional market. Charlotte with having NBA basketball and NFL football, but we’ve been successful because we consider and continue to market ourselves as the best sports entertainment value in the city. They get a professional type product for well below what you’re going to pay for NBA basketball or NFL football and for families in these economic times I think that means something. I understand from the professional outlet level you can’t necessarily mark down your prices real low, but it’s expensive to take in a professional game no matter what sport your talking about. For a family of four as an example; tickets a drink, popcorn, hot dog, whatever you spend a couple of bills there. At least, you can do the same for a minor league team and spend under a hundred bucks. Hey, sometimes the most expensive things the food and everything, not even the ticket itself.”

Howlings: “One of the things that we’ve noticed over the last couple of years that we’ve been coving the Checkers is that you’re very, very creative and you do very interesting promotions like this midnight game that you have coming up (February 18th at 11:59pm).”

Kahn: “Well, we’re going to find out. (laughs)

(Left to right, Kahn, Jim Rutherford, president & general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and Jason Karmanos, Assistant GM and son of team owner Peter Karmanos)

Howlings: “Do you think that in the American League you’ll be doing more traditional things or for lack of a better way of saying it, ‘the more outlandish’ or out there kinds of promotions?”

Kahn: “That’s kind of a hard question to answer at this point. We haven’t really wrapped our arms around marketing for the American League yet. We’re still playing to win a (Kelly) Cup here in the ECHL. It just so happened that we had to get this announcement out because of the rumors circulating, the timing and everything. Quite honestly we have everybody focused on us winning a Cup this year.”

Howlings: “The team is playing extremely well right now.”

Kahn: “We are playing well. I actually met with (the team) yesterday (Wednesday) because I wanted them to hear this news before it got out there and we are playing well. We’re playing really well and if we get some of our players back we’ll be playing even better. We’re doing this with eleven people called up right now that started the year here.”

Howlings: “(Vice-President & General Manager/Head Coach) Derek Wilkinson is doing an amazing job and it’s almost like he’s doing it with smoke and mirrors.”

Kahn: “He has never, in this market, for whatever reason, and probably because it’s the length of his tenure, I guess people believe in change for one bad stretch or whatever, never has gotten the full credit for what he does, which is why I’ve kept him the whole time. I have never ever even thought of moving him out. Especially from a recruiting standpoint. His player recruitment, the job he does is outstanding.”

Howlings: “Is Wilky’s future more in the hands of the Rangers organization or more in your hands?”

Kahn: “I believe he likes it here in Charlotte and I believe it’s more in my hands and that’s kind of where I want it. Quite honestly, He enjoys the coaching aspect. Is that long term what he wants to do? He and I have had many conversations and he’s never once expressed a desire to be in coaching long term. So, I see him working with myself, our organization and the Hurricanes organization going forward.”

Howlings: “Has there been any discussion about the coaching staff in terms of controlling it? Will that be your decision or (Carolina General Manager Jim) Rutherford’s?”

Kahn: “The coaching staff will be part of the Hurricanes I’m sure.”

Howlings: “It’ll be their decision?”

Kahn: “Yeah.”

Howlings: “Do you have any idea at this point which division you’ll be playing in? It’s pretty safe to assume it’s going to be the Eastern, no?”

Kahn: “I would think, but we haven’t had any discussions about that. Those discussions will probably take place at the next meetings in May.”

Howlings: “You mentioned in the press release that there will be some other things coming up in the future and that in a couple of weeks there will be another press conference. Is it too soon to tell us what some of those things are? Is that stuff like keeping the name, colors and things like that?”

Kahn: “It will be about the name, about our colors. It’ll be about ticket prices. It’ll be things the fans are more interested in. This was mainly just a business press conference.”

Howlings: “Then this next one will be more ‘fan-centric?’”

Kahn: “Yes. This one was mainly to put to bed all the rumors that were circulating. We had rumors around here that there were going to be two teams playing here; that there was going to be no hockey at all. It was just time to get all this settled and put to bed from that aspect and we’ll follow it up with something that’s going to be a lot more fan friendly. The stuff that’s important to the fans.”

Howlings: “This is kind of a left turn, but we ‘d like to get your view on head injuries against some of these younger players; whether you think there should be some rule changes or things that could be experimented with at the ECHL or AHL level for possible use in the NHL?”

Kahn: “I don’t know if I’m qualified to speak about that. I think there has to be a certain level of responsibility assessed to some of these players that go headhunting. There are definite examples of people headhunting. Those things have to be brought in line and have more severe penalties attached to them. But equipment wise and everything else, I would just like to see something done. Can we ever prevent it completely? Doubtful, but I would hope that we could at least find ways to tone it down some.

Howlings: “Thank-you so much for taking the time to talk with us and the fans today and we wish you continued success moving forward.”

Kahn: “It was my pleasure.”

(photos courtesy of gocheckers.com)

* Note,  Special thanks to Andrew Gross of “The Record (NJ)” for his help preparing for this interview.

3 responses to “KAHN SPEAKS…

  1. Nice interview. Glad to see the Rangers organization is behind the move. Overall it is a positive move for hockey to strengthen a market, traditional or otherwise. I’ll miss keeping up with you guys. You write a good column, Mitch, and I’ll keep reading as long as it pertains to us. Thanks.

    Checkers STH

  2. Matt,

    If by behind you mean supportive of it, that was the general feeling that I got from talking with Mr. Kahn. Depending upon how things go I may continue to cover the Checkers as well. I have a wonderful relationship wit hthe organziation and I’d hate to throw it away.

    Also thanks for the kind words…


  3. I hope they do something nice for the fan-related press conference. It would be great to have some type of a fan fest with contests to win Checkers and/or Hurricanes tickets and merchandise.