In some circles, it is widely held knowledge that fans of the Carolina Hurricanes are fiercely loyal to certain players, often to a fault. To a casual observer — and often to fellow fans — which players become fan favorites and which do not seems quite arbitrary.
In his time in Carolina, Mike Commodore became intensely popular with fans, prompting a fad of red wigs and bathrobes in PNC Arena. Jussi Jokinen was so popular with fans that during the national anthem, fans would shout the “you-see” part in tribute to him. The days those players were traded are held in North Carolina as solemn as the day Dale Earnhardt died.
The random nature of to whom the Hurricanes fans latch onto is evidenced by the near-religious following Ron Francis enjoyed, compared to the lukewarm respect given to Rod Brind’amour and Glen Wesley. All three have numbers hanging in the rafters and all three were instrumental in legendary seasons, yet Francis likely hasn’t paid for dinner in Raleigh since 2002, while Brind’amour and Wesley still pump their own gas.
Currently in Carolina, there is a dwindling “core set” of players, anchored by the merchandising juggernaut that is Eric Staal and Cam Ward. Late to the party, but still in the in-crowd, is tough guy Tim Gleason. Joni Pitkanen would be in this group if he was in possession of two functioning heel bones.
Hurricanes fans don’t let go of favorites very easily, yet they are going to need to. Of the three “core set” players above, only Staal is on the active roster, and his stats are headed south in a hurry. Gleason is reported to be returning for a second time this season. While these core players remain struggling or injured, the team is being carried by fresh faces like Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak and all around spark plug Nathan Gerbe.
Malhotra was a questionable signing, though has quickly proven his worth. The same could be said for Dvorak, though most saw his addition as positive. Of course, not enough good things can be said about this fellow they call “Road House,” Gerbe. He has never hesitated to mix it up, get physical and still skate with swagger and pizazz.
Are we here to laud praises of random players? Not at all. That is reserved for the PNC Arena parking lot next to a cooler and pig cooker. The point here is that fans are going to need to loosen their grip on the Hurricanes they have come to know and love, and accept the fact that some housecleaning needs to happen. Many of the younger players have also joined these “fan favorite” lists, like Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison. The problem is that holding a “fan favorite” will cloud one’s judgement. Harrison is simply dead weight and Faulk is running out of time to get consistent.
Allowing new blood into the organization can never be completely a bad thing. While some extremists are flying a “Trade Ward” banner, it’s not quite that bad. However, the fan base, and more importantly GM Jim Rutherford, should come to a realization that some guys, no matter how beloved, can be lost.
Nobody “makes” the team, as was evidenced by the sudden disappearance of the intensely popular Chad Larose. Larose was worshipped in Carolina, and after he mysteriously skated off into the sunset this past offseason, somehow, the team has survived.
The influx of new guys like Malhotra, Dvorak, Gerbe and whomever comes in next once Rutherford’s intervention is staged and he makes some trades is good. These new players should be embraced, but more than that, would be the recognition that the players traded were expendable.
Any bass angler can tell you that if they’re not biting, cut the bait and start with something new.