By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – Summer is upon us in the Triangle, so it’s time to focus on the Carolina Hurricanes’ upcoming 2018-2019 NHL regular season.
What? You’re not ready to come off the golf course, wipe off the sunscreen and shake out the beach sand in your swimsuit, or come back out of the woods yet?
If you’ve taken a nice, long break from thinking deeply about the Carolina Hurricanes since the team finished its ninth consecutive regular season missing the postseason back in early April, we’ve got you covered.
As the Hurricanes announced their full upcoming schedule on Thursday, its a perfect time to think about what to look forward to and get the discussions churning in clubhouses, at tables full of crab shells, and around the campfire.
So here we go.
Reshuffling deck chairs
In a quick nutshell and relatively speaking, a lot has happened off the ice, but nothing that can’t really be viewed as more than reshuffling of personnel and office spaces.
Former head coach Bill Peters fled for a similar position with the Calgary Flames while long-time assistant and franchise icon Rod Brind’Amour was named as his replacement with another longstanding Hurricanes fixture, former player and coach Jeff Daniels, filling the vacant assistant position, coming over from his recent stint on the pro scouting side.
After former executive vice-president and general manager Ron Francis, another franchise icon, was ousted by new majority owner Tom Dundon last Spring, a laborious and failed search for a new GM resulted in team president Don Waddell taking over that responsibility along with the help of newly appointed senior vice president of hockey operations Rick Dudley and vice president of hockey operations Paul Krepelka.
Thus, the group-think process of making decisions regarding on-ice personnel is now in full effect in Carolina.
Quite simply, everyone tells Dundon what they think and he yeas it, nays it, or just says we’re doing it totally different.
Stocking the shelves and replacing inventory
On the ice, there has been talk – just talk remember – of some major trade possibilities while much anticipation of what the organization will do with the No. 2 overall pick as the 2018 NHL Draft takes place Friday night.
Forward Jeff Skinner and defensemen Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin have been the names dangled among various media outlets as players who could be moved via trades as the July 1st free agent signing period also approaches.
For those wishing and hoping Dundon will drop bags of money outside the doors to PNC, sit on top of that pile, and present an image that will attract big-name players, hold off just a second.
With all the moves off the ice that have occurred to date, they have all been small-budget moves.
When asked of what the terms of Brind’Amour’s contract was, the apparently hip-deep-in-cash majority owner refused to reveal that information.
For an organization that for years has been open with handling questions like that, it should raise a flag as to what the financial commitment will be to truly offer top-level players the dollars to help this team get to the next level.
Aside from that, this retooled hockey operations management group can thank Francis for stocking the shelves significantly through four NHL drafts and small-level deals as many prospects like Valentin Zykov, Warren Foegele, and others are ready to take the next step.
Goaltender issues are a major focus for the Hurricanes.
With the expectation that veteran Cam Ward, the Conn Smythe winner who helped earn the organization its first and only Stanley Cup 12 years ago, will not be offered a contract as an impending UFA, attaining another keeper is paramount.
Following a disastrous season from originally-intended starter Scott Darling who has literally been working his butt off, apparently shedding many pounds, to be the keeper Francis hoped he would be, will Carolina buy a back-up, or give Checkers prospect Alex Nedeljkovic his chance to play in the NHL full-time?
So much to ponder here and fuel the speculation for another few weeks.
Getting butts in the seats
With that, we come to what expectations loyal season-ticket holders, and fair-weather fans alike, should have.
Know this – the price you pay to watch this team gets you in the door, a seat to enjoy copious amounts of food and libations, and the hopeful presentation of an entertaining major-league hometown team to root for.
Don’t worry, if you’re cheering for the opposition, Dundon and the ‘Canes will also welcome you with open arms – your money is no different unless you’re Canadian and waited too long to get the best exchange rate before getting your greenbacks.
There’ll be a lot of opportunity to contribute and re-deposit money back into the ATM across from Carter-Finley Stadium.
For the second consecutive season, the Hurricanes will open the season at home, kicking it off at PNC Arena on Thurs., Oct. 4 against the New York Islanders.
Weekends around the Triangle will be busy as Carolina plays 27 out of its 41 games off Trinity Road, including five three-game home stands, including a season-long stretch of six home-cooked meals for the players from Nov. 10-23.
There’s even a game scheduled during the State Fair, a 1 p.m. matchup against the Colorado Avalanche on Sat. Oct. 20th.
A one-stop shopping affair to look forward to indeed.
Get your storm kit ready
So, you’ll have ample opportunity to get through another NHL regular season in the Triangle, but will there be bonus hockey past April 6th?
Will the Carolina Hurricanes finally make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and end the league’s longest current streak in not doing so?
From 10,000 feet up and zeroing in closer to what’s happened so far, it’s not much clearer.
However, as area college football and basketball fans have done for decades, make your tailgate plans, be energetic, be enthusiastic, show up and have a good time regardless.
There will be a lot of double-dipping of events, so set your budget accordingly.
You must be ready for all this action to hit simultaneously, and it will quickly do so.
Just keep in mind that it won’t be fear of the inevitable, but more about what to do when the expected outcome is way different.
Unfortunately, past trends show our current Canes’ postseason prediction model showing no significant change, especially with a very quiet offseason of player personnel moves made to date.
However, if all-of-a-sudden we’re faced with a Hurricanes season of epic proportions – i.e. making the playoffs – how will we deal with that?
If faced with an uncertain and tumultuous storm season, even if you’re prepared, all you can do is hope for the best.
For Carolina Hurricanes fans, let’s hope for a very stormy year, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a decade.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport