RALEIGH — In their relatively short time in North Carolina, the Carolina Hurricanes have demonstrated a knack for mythology that franchises with far longer timelines haven't developed.
The sweaters belonging to franchise legends like Ron Francis, Glen Wesley and Rod Brind'Amour all duly hang from the ceiling of the RBC Center; All-Stars and Olympians are similarly commemorated on a temporary basis; the fallen, like Steve Chiasson, Josef Vasicek and Donnie MacMillian, are appropriately honored as well.
So what do you do about Peter Laviolette?
By all rights, Laviolette should be held in as high esteem as any of them. With each passing year, the magnitude of his accomplishment only grows.
Fans have never forgotten nor underestimated Laviolette's role in bringing the Stanley Cup here in 2006. They no doubt will demonstrate that again when Laviolette returns to the RBC Center tonight with the Philadelphia Flyers. While Laviolette declined to comment Monday, he did take pains to note his appreciation of their support.
The franchise, though, has - at times unnecessarily - created a more complicated dynamic. Anytime a coach is fired, it creates tension. That's unavoidable, even when the coach is a franchise loyalist like Paul Maurice. Coaches might be hired to be fired, as the old saying goes, but that doesn't make it any easier when the time comes.
Firing Laviolette, as the Hurricanes did in the fall of 2008, always was going to make proper acknowledgement of his contributions to the franchise difficult. (That Laviolette was fired with a 12-11-2 record, and none of Maurice's three succeeding teams matched that mark, only makes the timing harder to rationalize.)
In a perfect world, Laviolette would have gotten the Hurricanes back to the playoffs in 2007 or 2008 and (one hopes) the decision to bring back Maurice would never have been considered. That's not how it turned out, and now another coach, Kirk Muller, has the same chance Laviolette had in the spring of 2004 to set the franchise's course for the foreseeable future.
Still, if the mere firing were the only roadblock, those wounds might have healed by now. Laviolette was fired by the New York Islanders, a move that franchise long ago came to regret, and he receives a hero's welcome both from the fans and within the hallways of Nassau Coliseum when he goes back. The same might be true here were it not for owner Peter Karmanos' bizarre rantings a month after Laviolette was fired.
By declaring that he "didn't like our coach," that Laviolette essentially got lucky in a "perfect storm the year we won the Cup" and disparaging his "too quick an evaluation of players," among other slights, Karmanos forever roiled the water that might one day have worked its way under the bridge and into history.
A toxic cloud
There's no point in haranguing Karmanos again for his inability to appreciate just how valuable Laviolette was to Carolina's success in 2006, although one hopes watching the team struggle under his coach-of-choice Maurice will have driven that message home by now. Still, three years later, Karmanos' comments still hang in the air like a toxic cloud when Laviolette returns to town.
That's not right, and it has to be addressed someday. This franchise still owes Laviolette a debt of gratitude. Karmanos and the Hurricanes eventually will have to swallow their collective pride and admit Laviolette was not only a critical factor in Carolina's Stanley Cup championship but perhaps the key factor.
There's not much to be done now, not as long as Laviolette is coaching a conference rival. The day will come, though, when his contributions must be acknowledged - officially.