This is a guest article written by Matt Karash of Canes and Coffee. A big thanks to Matt for his contribution.
Matt is the founder of Canes and Coffee. Prior to launching his site in 2015, he covered the team for nearly 10 years at HockeyBuzz and has also contributed articles elsewhere in the hockey world.
At his hockey core, Matt is a Canes fan who adopted the team when it moved to North Carolina and was hooked for life during the 2001 and 2002 playoffs. He obviously appreciates the Cup win too, but to this day, he believes that the Kevin Weeke’s stunning overtime save and Josef Vasicek’s subsequent game-winner in game 5 of the first round of the 2002 playoffs against New Jersey paved the way to the most significant win in franchise history.
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Three pillars of a bright Carolina Hurricanes future
One cannot deny that the Carolina Hurricanes hockey faithful have endured a tough run of years supporting our local hockey team. With the Edmonton Oiler’s 2017 NHL playoff berth, the Hurricanes became the NHL team with the longest streak of playoff misses which now stands at eight years, and we now have ‘from the cradle’ Hurricanes fans entering the third grade who have not been alive for Hurricanes playoff hockey. Not surprisingly, there have been ramifications in areas beyond the NHL standings. Attendance has been down. Fans have to endure intermittent rumors and rumblings about the possibility of the team moving. And Canes hockey just does not have the same buzz and energy in and around Raleigh as it did during the fun playoff runs that saw the area rally around the team, tailgating in masses at PNC Arena for spring and summer playoff hockey.
But with the start of training camp dawning, mid-September is always a time for looking forward. And though I am admittedly biased in a positive direction, I think even a more objective view of the current state of the Carolina Hurricanes is as positive as it has been in about a decade.
When I think about the current state of a professional sports team, I consider three angles.
1-How good is the team right now/today, as in outlook for the current season?
2-How promising does the future look for the team when also considering the age of key players and the strength of the team’s prospect pool that will help fuel future success?
3-What is outlook financially and otherwise off the ice?
1- How good is the team right now?
In this regard, ultimately the proof is in the pudding. The minimum bar for a return to success right now is a return to the playoffs, ideally coupled with some success once the team gets there. We need wait no further than mid-April to see if that happens.
Though success cannot truly be achieved until April of 2018 when the first round playoff matchups are set for the 2018 playoffs, things are trending in the right direction. The Hurricanes played their best hockey of the 2016-17 season in March and made things interesting in the final few weeks for the first time in years. The torrid run of 13 straight games with at least a point and a 9-0-3 record proved sadly to be ‘too little, too late,’ but it did show what the team was capable of when firing on all cylinders.
With no significant departures, the addition of one of the best goalies available on the market in Scott Darling and the return of a great leader and all-around player in Justin Williams, one can make a strong case that the team has significantly improved during the offseason and is ready to push for the playoffs.
As I said above, the proof is ultimately in the results especially for the ‘right now’ evaluation, but there is significant reason for Hurricanes fans to be optimistic right now without needing to look deep into the future.
2-How promising does the future look on the ice?
While the team has improved over the past few years since Ron Francis started his tenure as general manager, the most dramatic change has actually been in the future of the team.
When Francis was named general manager in April of 2014, the Hurricanes consistently ranked in the bottom five out of 30 NHL teams in terms of prospects in the team’s system. Over time a few draft pick trades here and there to stopgap the lineup and a short run of draft misses added up such that the Hurricanes prospect pool was light on both quantity and quality.
Fast forward to today, and that has changed significantly. In his three years at the helm, Ron Francis has added six more prospects than the normal allotment of seven draft picks per year. More significantly, the Hurricanes regularly rank in the top five in the NHL and nearly unanimously in the top 10. (The most recent article I have seen by Dobber Prospects had the Hurricanes at #6.)
But looking solely at prospect rankings actually undersells the Hurricanes future since so many of the Hurricanes best young players are not considered prospects. The group of Jaccob Slavin (23 years old) , Brett Pesce (22) , Noah Hanifin (20), Elias Lindholm (22), Sebastian Aho (20), and Teuvo Teravainen (22) who are either still prospect age or barely past it are not considered for prospect rankings because they have already established themselves at the NHL level.
There are no guarantees with the development of young players, but when one considers the consistently high rankings in the team by team prospect roundups and also the number of young players in key roles at the NHL level, even a non-biased view has the Hurricanes in the top teams in the league when considering the future.
3-What is the outlook financially and otherwise off the ice?
With league worst attendance in 2016-17, one might figure that this is where the rubber hits the road in terms of offering a positive assessment of the state of the Hurricanes. No doubt, the organization has work to do in terms of rebuilding and renewing a fan base that filled PNC Arena during more prosperous times.
But even this pillar has the potential to turn significantly positive during the 2017-18 season. Winning would obviously boost attendance, but over the summer a bigger development occurred. In July rumors surfaced that the Carolina Hurricanes were in negotiations to be sold to a new ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg. At least in terms of something being considered, those rumors have since been validated by current owner Peter Karmanos.
‘Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched’ clearly applies to the situation, but the potential transition could become a high point for the team in terms of its long-term future even trumping possible success on the ice. The specter of an ownership change has been hanging over the team for multiple years now and with the team struggling both on the ice and in the seats, that situation has intermittently stirred up rumblings and rumors about a potential move out of Raleigh upon sale.
Nothing is certain until a deal closes, but on the surface the situation looks incredibly favorable. Chuck Greenberg is a long-time professional sports executive who has played at the major league level, has experience at the minor league level where marketing is more significant than team results and has the reputation for being hands on and involved in the community. If his ownership bid comes to fruition, his skill set and experience could be a huge boon to the process of rebuilding the team in the coming years hopefully timed perfectly with more success on the ice as fuel.
They say it is always darkest before the dawn. I am admittedly biased in a positive direction, but at the same time, I think there is plenty of objective evidence that a new day is dawning for Carolina Hurricanes hockey.