RALEIGH — A bad loss in Montreal eight years ago was the tipping point for Peter Karmanos, the moment when the Carolina Hurricanes owner gave the go-ahead to fire Paul Maurice. At that point, general manager Jim Rutherford was already talking to Peter Laviolette. Three games later, Maurice was fired.
One can only wonder whether Rutherford is talking to anyone right now, after another ugly 4-0 loss to the Canadiens that should be the latest in a long list of final straws for Mo 2.0. If change is coming, the logical time to make it is an off day Tuesday - three games later.
Amid all those similarities, the biggest change is the way fans feel about Maurice. Eight years ago, most fans didn't know any better. They had never known any other coach. Now, they have. They have seen the Stanley Cup. They're savvier about the game of hockey. And they're tired of all the losing.
If the "Mo Must Go" movement was initially the work of a vocal minority the last time around, it's a wink-wink joke among everyone this time, on Twitter, on message boards, on the radio. No one is happy with 14th in the conference and last in the Southeast Division, but few believe Karmanos and Rutherford will actually fire him again.
Unlike eight years ago, though, fans aren't buying what they're selling. Through nine home games, attendance is down 3 percent from the same point last season, and although that may not sound like much, it's more than 5,000 total tickets. That's almost a half-million dollars in tickets and concessions that went unsold, real money for a team that pinches every penny. And that doesn't include the untold cost of growing fan apathy.
Rutherford has been working the phones. The Hurricanes have showcased free-agent bust Tomas Kaberle in the last two games, and Bryan Allen may be on the block as well. But no trade is going to change a dressing-room culture that resulted in one of the most flaccid performances in recent memory Wednesday night.
Eric Staal's captaincy was a topic of intermission discussion during TSN's Canadian broadcast Wednesday, and it's a fair question whether he's experienced enough to navigate a team through this mess, or whether he can lead by example at an NHL-worst minus-18.
By the same token, it's unfair to judge Staal's leadership on a team that is playing as if it's waiting for its coach to be fired. That was all too apparent against the Habs, when the Hurricanes were willing to do none of the dirty work it takes to win.
Fans noticed that Wednesday night. They're unhappy with Maurice's line-juggling. They're unhappy with his frequent refusal to give significant roles to young players in favor of underperforming veterans. They're unhappy with what many perceive as an organization-wide acceptance of mediocrity.
How times have changed. Maurice, when he was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs for two postseason-free seasons, loved to talk about how difficult it was to motivate players here, because the spotlight was so dim.
"There were lots of times with the Hurricanes when I wished there was a bit more exterior pressure so I didn't have to be the guy kicking the mule every night," Maurice said in 2007.
That was a convenient exaggeration even then, but it doesn't apply at all now. The market has matured, and there's no shortage of exterior pressure on Maurice or anyone else. If this team still isn't motivated, there's only one mule to kick.