There’s new hope every fall, that this is the season the Carolina Hurricanes get back in the playoffs, this is the season the pieces click, this is the season all the old magic is back and there’s reason to tailgate in April, May, June.
Hope usually ends up on injured reserve by early November, right about the time the Hurricanes return from their annual State Fair road trip with bodies and confidence battered in equal measure.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Hurricanes are unlikely to be one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s also unlikely the Hurricanes will be as miserable as some pundits are predicting. The gap in class between this team and the ticketed-for-last Buffalo Sabres was readily apparent last Friday, even by preseason standards.
Still, after watching Jeff Skinner stagger off the ice in Sunday’s no-show loss to the Washington Capitals, it feels like even the best-case scenario may be in the middle, the usual and typical neighborhood where the Hurricanes too often reside – not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a decent draft pick.
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But if the goaltending is good, and Cam Ward can recapture the magic; and if all the kids are all right; and if coach Bill Peters can get the most out of the Hurricanes’ would-be stars in a way his predecessors could not maybe this team could sneak into a playoff spot and end the drought.
That’s a lot of ifs. But in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, the door remains open for the Hurricanes – just as it did last season, and the season before that, and the season before that, and the season before that, and the season before that.
Each of those felt like it was absolutely, 100 percent imperative the Hurricanes make the playoffs to ensure the future health of the franchise. Each year, the Hurricanes were left with only excuses. Each year, things have gotten worse.
The Hurricanes are paying the price for the way Jim Rutherford and Peter Karmanos allowed the business side of the franchise to atrophy, a mess currently undergoing triage under Don Waddell. Ticket sales are slow – there are discounts available for opening night, the one game out of 41 that should sell itself – suites sit empty, the ownership situation is in flux and sponsors have jumped ship.
The Hurricanes have spent five years giving fans and sponsors a reason not to pay attention. It’s never been more important to remind them why this franchise matters, not since the first days after the move when the franchise was desperate for any positive momentum at all.
That’s a heavy load to place on Peters, but without major changes to the roster, without a dependable option in goal going into the season, with Jordan Staal out and serious questions about the depth on both forward and defense, the coach may be the only thing standing between the Hurricanes and disaster on and off the ice.
He’s an intense, demanding coach who clearly has a plan and is convinced of its value, reminiscent of Peter Laviolette in that way. Laviolette had more to work with, but he worked miracles. Even if the Hurricanes hadn’t won the Stanley Cup in 2006, the way the Canes played that season – the way they competed – helped revive a fan base that was very much on the fence coming off the lockout.
The Hurricanes sat out an entire year and emerged unscathed thanks to their success that season. They haven’t been in as desperate a need for good news on the ice to balance the uncertainty off of it since then.