RALEIGH — As dismal as this season has been for the Carolina Hurricanes, here's the way next season is shaping up: The Hurricanes will open the regular season with two games in Helsinki, Finland, and also will play a preseason exhibition game either in Finland or Moscow.
The Canes should have their American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte, expanding exposure for the team and hockey in the state.
The 2011 NHL All-Star Game could be played at the RBC Center, with an official announcement soon to be made by the league.
And while the Hurricanes' roster will have a much different look to it, it could include one of the top picks from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The NHL announced Tuesday that the Hurricanes were one of six teams selected for the 2010 Compuware/NHL Premiere and NHL Face-Off. Carolina will play the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8 in Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, and team owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said Tuesday the Canes' excursion would include the preseason game in Finland or Russia.
"It should be an interesting start to the season," Karmanos said. "Some of the teams last year were complaining about having a slow start because they started in Europe, and I figured we couldn't do much worse than we did this year."
Karmanos likes the idea of having the AHL affiliate in the same state. Karmanos had to be a bit coy in what he said, but an announcement is expected today in Charlotte that the AHL franchise in Albany, N.Y., has been bought and will be relocated to Charlotte, and that the Charlotte Checkers will be the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate next season.
"Hopefully we will have an affiliate team that's a lot closer to us and in the Carolinas to help solidify the fan base that we have," Karmanos said. "We'll see what their announcement is [today], but it would be nice to have an affiliate that close.
"It's a case where one plus one equals more than two. When we first came here this was not 'hockey country.' I think we have built a tremendous fan base in North Carolina since then, and adding an American Hockey League affiliate in the Carolinas will even further solidify that fan base to the very tip of the state in the South to where we are."
The Canes have made an official bid to host one of the NHL All-Star Games in the next three years.
"We could use that All-Star Game to leverage some season-ticket sales," he added. "We need to sell more season tickets and we would certainly use the All-Star Game to do that."
Karmanos said the season-ticket base currently was about 10,000 - counting full season-ticket holders and season-ticket equivalents - and said it needed to be raised to about 14,000 to be on firmer financial ground as a franchise.
"One of the reasons I wanted to move the team here [from Hartford, Conn.] is because I thought it was a great, great market, and I thought it gave us the chance to build the market properly," he said. "It's all worked out that way.
"It's cost a lot of money along the way. It turns out that we probably would have been better off to go play in Dorton Arena [the first two seasons] and put some money in Dorton Arena when we first came here, rather than going into the black hole called Greensboro."
The Canes won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. Karmanos expected this year's team to make another run at the Cup; instead it has lost so many games it's contending for one of the top picks in the draft.
"We always want to win no matter what. ... but we want to get the first pick overall, too," Karmanos said, smiling. "So we're a little bit bi-polar when it comes to winning and losing."