Carter Hutton has a lot on his mind these days. The hockey season hasn't gone anywhere near like he's hoped, for either himself or his team. And as the Sabres play out the string, Hutton's mind is also on his former home and his big outside hockey investment.
Hutton, a partner in a Nashville winery/restaurant project, learned Tuesday while the team was in Winnipeg that the business he joined in 2017 was extensively damaged by the tornado that struck the Music City early Tuesday morning.
The Nashville Urban Winery, a revitalization project that was once an abandoned car repair shop, was pummeled by the EF-3 storm with winds estimated at 165 mph. Homes were destroyed and multiples businesses damaged – some to a total loss – in the East Nashville neighborhood. Hutton estimated it might take up to a year to rebuild the facility.
"We got hit pretty hard. We own the whole building it's in," Hutton said Tuesday prior to the Sabres' game against the Penguins. "The last few days have been mayhem for my partner on the ground there. The whole city is in a whirlwind right now. It's frustrating for us but we're just glad everybody that's safe that we know there. There's been a tremendous loss in the city.
The winery is only about 2 miles across the Cumberland River east of Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators. It's just 1 mile away from Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL's Titans. Hutton, who played for the Predators from 2013-2016, was stunned when he was sent photos of the damage to the business.
"It's pretty rough. We lost a roof on one part. Windows. We took a beating pretty much everywhere," he said. "We have a couple different tenants in the building and their places didn't fare too well either. It's just a waiting game right now and whole parts of the city are in shambles.
"We've lost materialistic things and we can fix that. It's now dealing with insurance companies. Fortunately for us, all our stock was safe. We ended up getting our wine out to a distributor warehouse, can ship from there and then hopefully get our feet back on the ground. It's going to be I assume maybe 6-12 months from the way I've seen the building looks right now."
Hutton said he's been very pleased with the business and this was a tough blow to take. It combines restaurant and function space with the winery, which produces bottles under the "Love and Exile" brand for about 350 outlets in Tennessee.
"And we've come out with a hard seltzer, a White Claw competitor," he said. "We're coming out with a sparkling Sangria, a bunch of different things in the can. We've concentrated lately on the canning end, gotten laser focused now over these two years. It's helped us find where our niche is. It's been really going well and Nashville is a great city for it. It's a social city where people want to go out and be entertained."
And that's when Hutton had another sobering thought: What if the twister had hit during the dinner hour or when there was a function filling the space?
"It's really fortunate for that," he said. "You think of that a lot. Maybe the restaurant is filled with people. It's a scary time just thinking about friends and families that were there in that city."
Hutton was talking in advance of a game he surely thought he would be playing in. He has a 5-1 career record against the Penguins with a 1.95 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. And he beat them twice earlier this season.
But the Sabres opted to give Jonas Johansson the game against a marquee opponent. It probably should be his last look. Linus Ullmark is back skating and is likely to be able to at least back up this weekend. Johansson has had a nice growth year in Rochester but is simply not an NHL goalie at this stage.
"I understand it," Hutton said. "It's frustrating because I always want to play, right? I'm stubborn in that sense but they want to give 'JJ' games and get him in there and he's earned that too. At the same time, I can't take anything for granted. You never know when your next start will be."
Hutton is 12-13-4, 3.18/.898 and his season is most notable for his 12-game winless streak that stretched from late October to early February. He came through in the wake of Ullmark's injury to win five out of six at one stretch but was pedestrian at best during the team's 0-4 Western road trip.
"We definitely have improved and we're not by any stretch a bad hockey team. We just have bad moments," Hutton said. "And bad moments against teams and star players that are so good, they make you pay. And not to hide myself from it at all either. There's been times I need to be a lot better and there's times I can say there's not much else I can do. It's been a mix of everything. We just need to be consistently better all the time."
So as Hutton forges on with the hockey season, his partner and winery founder Tyler Alkins forges ahead with the task of rebuilding.
"At the end of the day, this is my job. That's my business interest/investment," Hutton said. "You wish you could be there to help out more but he understands that. Realistically at this point, there's not a lot I can do. It's a matter of waiting for the powers that be in insurance to try to get a number and where do we start?
"It's been going really well too. We've had big meetings with grocers and brands like EJ Gallo. The ultimate goal has been to get that brand big enough to be with big companies. This is certainly a setback but you just keep going forward. Everyone was OK and you feel for everybody down there. We'll get through it."