One of the most frustrating things about the Carolina Hurricanes is watching other franchises in other cities get featured for this and that while Carolina remains an also-ran. While everyone else plays in the Stadium Series, the mere suggestion of a Carolina vs. anyone at Carter-Finley Stadium is met with hearty laughter.
Carolina seems to be the butt of many jokes and is generally met with sneers and chuckles when anyone suggests Raleigh is a hockey town. While it’s true Raleigh is a great hockey city, it’s pointless to argue about it. Simply whining to be taken seriously as an NHL franchise won’t make it so. If Carolina is to keep up with the Joneses, there’s one thing they need to do: start winning again.
The chances of the Hurricanes entering the pantheon of great NHL franchises has waffled between “possible”, “improbable” and “prohibited by the laws of reality.” While the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets just kind of showed up and were handed legitimacy along with the keys to the arena, it’s difficult to sit back as a Hurricanes fan and after almost 15 years, still be taunted with jabs about Hartford.
It’s the culture, stupid. Carolina has never billed itself as a “traditional” hockey town, and are right to refrain from that. Raleigh is not a natural hockey town, no matter how great the Raleigh IceCaps were. The Hurricanes were right to go with the non-traditional angle, and during the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, they were genius to push the “Redneck Hockey” thing. However, they had that privilege because the team was winning.
Nothing will happen until the Hurricanes start putting wins up with anything approaching consistency. Standing squarely in the path of this progress is GM and puck-with-eyes Jim Rutherford.
The PR department can only do so much. They can only do so many special promotions and make the uniforms so cool. At some point, Rutherford has to take on a win-at-all-costs mentality and start stacking a team to win immediately — not down the road. He needs to spend smart money, not big money. Sign a couple of big names, and then use what’s left over to make long-term investments.
If owner Peter Karmanos Jr. is serious, he’d hand the team to VP of Hockey Operations Ron Francis, and watch the turnaround of the culture as the Hurricanes cease to be a joke and become a serious franchise.
Furthermore, he needs to hire a coach with some real credentials. Kirk Muller is a nice guy and would make a heck of a career for himself in the AHL but he has demonstrated that he has no business on an NHL bench. Rutherford would be wise to bring in someone with some kind of track record. Literally anyone with any earned name recognition will do just fine.
A simple change of culture can transform a franchise. A perfect example of this is the post-Disney Anaheim Ducks. After Disney made a laughingstock of them as the “Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim” and realized they had no place in the realm of professional sports, in came new owners Henry and Susan Samueli and GM Brian Burke.
Together, they gutted the team of all talking mice and pixie dust, and created an actual professional hockey team. They then proceeded to spend the money that was going towards Ice-kateers kiddie junk, and spent it on some guys who could play. Big trades and signings and an actual coach created a winning team. Now the Disney incarnation of the team that was the butt of every joke in the league is barely ever mentioned.
Should Karmanos actually want to win another Stanley Cup and run a team that is respected and can acquire and retain big name talent, he must immediately change the culture. Realizing the habit of perpetual loyalty to the inner circle just is not working is step one.
The way Carolina is running the team is a one-way ticket to becoming the Washington Generals of the league. It’s a safe bet there’s not a ton of season tickets being sold to see that team.