The Hurricanes have had a rough few seasons since winning the cup in 2006. Only once since then, at the end of the 2008-09 season, have they even qualified for the playoffs. Early into last season, head coach Paul Maurice was fired and replaced by Kirk Muller. The Canes finished 5th in the Southeast, for the worst season they’ve had since winning the cup.
But the Hurricanes were one of the most active teams this offseason, trading Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first-round draft pick (8th overall) in exchange for Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They went on to sign captain Eric Staal’s younger brother to a 10-year, $60 million contract. If that wasn’t enough, Alex Semin also signed with the Hurricanes to a one-year contract.
That’s some competitive changes to their offense. The buzz around the Staal trade was loud enough. Add Semin to the mix, and some people were already labeling the Canes as a cup contender for the upcoming season.
Before the coaching change, the Canes were losing more than half their games. Insert Coach Muller, and they almost doubled the amount of games they were winning. The Canes were already poised to have a better season, and they furthered that momentum with their summer activity. Fans across the state had reason to look forward to the next season.
But then everything came to a screeching halt with the lockout.
While some cities across the nation live for their pro sports, I’ve found Carolina to be more of a college-sport state, with Duke, Chapel Hill and NC State all having strong rivalries. Losing that momentum of Coach Muller approaching his first full season and the aggressive trades the team made will impact the support from Canes fans. Pro and college football seasons have already started and before we know it the basketball season will be here, probably before hockey.
The Hurricanes were already having trouble with attendance, with around 2,000 open seats a game. Compared to J. Staal’s former team’s five-season sellout streak, the numbers are dismal. The Canes will have to do more than return to the ice to get their fans to return to their seats. The question is, what will it take?