New Sunrise Sports & Entertainment Executive Chairman Peter Luukko had an answer to the obvious question to ask a new top suit of the Panthers, once again hanging around just outside the playoffs but now before massive blocs of empty seats.
“I never even discussed relocation or heard of that,” Luukko said during a Friday conference call. “I’m coming down to Florida because there’s a franchise in Florida that can be successful. I certainly didn’t take a position thinking it was something that was relocating.”
Luukko also didn’t want to comment on the Panthers’ dealings with Broward County over the BB&T Center, as he’s the new guy on the job and hadn’t been over it yet with owner Vincent Viola.
The Panthers have Rory Babich as CEO and President and Dale Tallon as general manager. So, how does Luukko see his job?
“My job is really to be the orchestra leader,” Luukko said. “It’ll be to work with everybody every day. So my days will be talking to Dale every day, Rory every day, the various staff members every day.
“When you talk about business and the hockey side, Dale deals with the hockey side day to day,” Luukko said. “The coaches coach, they have pracitce, I certainly won’t be involved in that end. I’ll probably be more involved on the business end. So that would be more time, but the focus will be on business, hockey, business, hockey, business, hockey all the time.”
The Panthers are getting a veteran of one of the NHL’s most consistently well-run franchises. Luukko joined the Philadelphia Flyers organization in 1985, quickly ascended to president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor (which owns the Flyers) and was Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider’s right arm for over 20 years. He even served as the Flyers representative on the NHL Board of Governors.
His November 2013 resignation shocked the Flyers organization, including son Nick, a Flyers prospect. Another son, Max, plays defense at the University of Vermont, which is where Luukko did the conference call from Friday. In interviews around the time of the resignation, he talked about cashing out, selling his businesses and spending time with his family.
Which is perhaps why, he said Friday, he responded with weary negativity when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned Luukko should meet with Panthers owner Vinny Viola. Bettman did some friendly bullying and cajoling, telling Luukko how similar Viola was.
“I wasn’t five minutes into the meeting and I saw what Gary was saying,” Luukko said. “The excitement, the commitment he shows. The refuse-to-lose attitude was incredibly infectious.”
“I became very very excited. I began to realize how much I love hockey and missed being in the NHL.”