To be perfectly honest, gaining legitimacy in the NHL is a hard thing to do for any team not in the Original Six. For any “non-traditional market” team established after the 1980s, this legitimacy may as well be imaginary.
The Carolina Hurricanes have an interesting situation. The team moved to North Carolina in 1997 after being the Hartford Whalers for a huge amount of time. They weren’t immediately accepted due to the horrible idea of having them play at Greensboro Coliseum two hours down the road while their arena was being built. Once they established a foot-hold in the Raleigh area, the fans came in droves and have remained freakishly loyal.
That’s not how Hartford tells it.
According to people in Hartford, the Hurricanes were ripped away from a loyal city who loved them dearly; and because of the treachery and deceit of Peter Karmanos, the state of Connecticut has descended into anarchy, and nobody should ever accept Carolina as a real hockey team and all their fans live in trailers. If you think that’s hyperbole, go on YouTube and look at the comments section for literally any video of Brass Bonanza, the Whalers’ theme song.
Truth be told, fans in Carolina don’t help all that much. Head to a game at PNC Arena, and you’re likely to see more than a few Whalers sweaters. The souvenir stand actually sells Hartford merchandise. Some fans have even asked the team to skate in throwback jerseys and to reclaim Brass Bonanza for reasons science can’t explain.
Hartford has also started a ridiculous campaign for an expansion team, as if this is something the world owes them.
The facts are this. Hartford lost their team simply because they couldn’t fill the barn. When Karmanos made a deal with the city that if they bought a certain number of season tickets, they’d stay, Hartford said “meh” and bought even less season tickets. Yet Hartford is still convinced they are owed a team when they couldn’t support the one they had –and Carolina fans feel some weird obligation to keep the logo of a defunct team alive.
This is a phenomenon found exclusively in the Hurricanes-Whalers dimension of the hockey universe. Take a good look at the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams used to be other teams in more traditional markets. Colorado was the Quebec Nordiques and Phoenix was the original Winnipeg Jets. While the hockey watching community tends to end sentences about the Hurricanes with “…who used to be in Hartford”, when has anyone casually referred to Colorado and felt the need to clarify the Quebec roots of the team?
In reality the origins of each team have been largely forgotten. Avalanche fans comment that they rarely see Nordiques jerseys at games, if at all. While they do say they recognize the heritage and the carryover from Quebec that gave them a winning team — that’s the past and they’re the Avalanche now.
Phoenix-Winnipeg is a weird thing. While the bankrupt Jets made their way to Arizona, Winnipeg got their team back when the second failed experiment of hockey in Georgia led the Atlanta Thrashers to re-locate (The first having created the Calgary Flames). Hartford fans will point to Winnipeg and whine about how they deserve to get their team back and how come Winnipeg gets a team and they don’t.
Buy a map, Hartford.
Winnipeg is in a strange, far off land called Manitoba. Wedged in there next to Saskatchewan, there’s not a whole lot of pro sports up there. Manitoba is also in this country called Canada which makes up 33 percent of the NHL’s ticket sales revenue. Winnipeg is a three-hour plane flight from any other Canadian NHL franchise and a six-hour drive from the Minnesota Wild.
Hurricanes fans need to grow more of a backbone to this. There’s no reason to wear a Whalers jersey in PNC Arena. At all. In fact, there’s not much reason for that logo to be used anywhere close to the Hurricanes. Hartford is in the past. Should the NHL choose to bring a team back there, fine. However, continuing to feed into their misplaced rage succeeds in only diminishing the legitimacy Carolina has worked so hard to cultivate.