Commentary

DeCock: After compelling summer, Canes pull disappearing act

ldecock@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2012 

STAAL-SP-072512-TEL

Jordan Staal talks with reporters during a press conference Friday, July 27, 2012, at the PNC Arena. Staal joins his brother Eric in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup after Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford negotiated a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com

You know what, NHL? Play, don’t play, no one cares anymore. In this market, the Carolina Hurricanes already have slipped so far off the radar they might as well have moved to Quebec.

They captured the attention of this market with their moves over the summer, trading for Jordan Staal, bringing back Joe Corvo and signing Alexander Semin. In less than a full season, Kirk Muller had completely won over the hearts and minds of the fan base. It was by far the best summer of hockey in North Carolina that didn’t involve visits from the Stanley Cup, and generated more excitement about the upcoming season than any since the team moved here.

That upcoming season still hasn’t happened. The Hurricanes didn’t play the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, and they won’t host the New York Rangers on Friday in what would have been the PNC Arena debut of the Staal-Staal-Semin trio.

Eight years ago, Hurricanes fans understood the lockout was about survival, but they saw this summer their team could be as competitive as anyone if it tried. When you decide to shut down for absolutely no reason, so a few hardline owners can squeeze a few last dollars out of the players – completely out of spite, because the last labor agreement was “too fair” – you take the risk that interest will wane in places like this one.

And what’s happened in this market? The most compelling combination of ACC football and basketball in decades. Between Duke’s remarkable run to a bowl game, North Carolina’s explosive offense and spoiler role in the Coastal Division and N.C. State’s potential to win 10 games, people are talking about football here with a fervor they don’t usually have.

The same is true of basketball, where the fervor bar is set far higher. All three teams have a chance to not only win the ACC, but go to the Final Four. When you put those kind of stakes on the table in this market, people go freaking nuts.

Given those circumstances, it was going to be a tough fall for the Hurricanes anyway, but they’d done as much as humanly possible to make themselves not only relevant but unavoidably compelling. Fans bought into the changes, and what have they gotten for that emotional investment? Nothing. Not even disappointment. Not a single moment to justify the optimism of August.

While the NHL fiddles, the ACC is burning – it’s red hot, with rivalries flaring and tension building in football and eager anticipation growing for what might just be the most communally entertaining basketball season in recent memory.

The Hurricanes could have been a part of that. They had bought a seat at the table over the summer. Instead, while their owner and 29 others pursue a path of vindictive greed, and the not-blameless players take stands on principles instead of pragmatism, the Hurricanes continue to recede into the background here.

NHL owners and players have settled on the big issues: They’re going to end up splitting revenue 50-50 and all the big contracts signed this summer will be paid in full. It’s just a question of how to get there. (Freeze the cap at current levels until it hits 50 percent of revenue, let it float from there and let’s get back on the ice.)

At this point, whether they get there in time to save the season or not, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Hurricanes. They’ve done more to disappear in this market by not playing than they did to capture attention over the summer. If and when they do start playing, they face a long road back.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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