By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes continue to struggle to earn a playoff spot for the first time in nine years.
The team sits four points out of an Eastern Conference wildcard spot heading into a match-up in Chicago against the Blackhawks on Thursday, and on the heels of Ron Francis being stripped of the general manager position by majority owner Tom Dundon the night before.
The team has held that final spot over the past month, but has had trouble staying in it.
There’s a lot of blame to go around.
Who’s hot and who’s not
At this point, it’s been more about losing as the Hurricanes have only claimed two wins in their last 10 games (2-6-2).
With 15 games remaining at 29-27-11, Carolina continues to battle the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and New York’s Islanders and Rangers for a place in the postseason.
From head coach Bill Peters’ perspective and supported by Francis’ thinking, a lack of scoring has been a major obstacle.
Carolina has been outscored 35-20 during this current slide.
Of the team’s leading scorers, Teuvo Teravainen has been the most productive, scoring six times while Sebastian Aho and Jeff Skinner have tallied two apiece.
However, Aho’s been scoreless in his last three games, Skinner hasn’t lit the lamp in seven, and Victor Rask hasn’t celebrated a goal in 17 games.
Production from the blue line has also lacked from a team touted for possessing dynamic, offensive defensemen.
Most notably, Justin Faulk and Jacob Slavin are goalless in 10 games, and one marker from Noah Hanifin has not even come close to supporting the Hurricanes’ offensive efforts from the back end.
Leading up to the slide
Before he completed the purchase of his share of the team, a reported 61 percent, Dundon accompanied the team on its road trip to Toronto and Nashville.
A season-worst 8-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre was followed by a bounce-back 4-1 win over the Preds, the start of a season-high four game win streak.
Things looked up entering the New Year as Carolina put together a 6-4-1 record as Dundon came to Raleigh on Jan. 12th and started opening doors, pressing buttons, and talking to anyone he encountered throughout PNC Arena.
Heralded as the savior of the franchise, reassuring fans that the team would remain in the Triangle, he went to work to adjust the reigns on various fiscal and operational functions.
Discounted parking, food, and ticket options increased excitement all in the name of improving the fan experience which worked wonderfully.
The new owner apparently can do no wrong.
Changing it up
Just before Dundon was introduced as majority owner, the Hurricanes sat at 20-15-8 overall.
Since that time, they hold a 9-12-3 record – 6-8-2 at home and 3-4-1 on the road.
So much has happened and continues to happen when this owner is around PNC Arena on game days.
Whatever in-game routine this team had before, it’s changed.
The Hurricanes now walk out and are greeted every period by lucky fans along the hallway, now known as the Fan Tunnel, extending out to the newly installed Northwest gate compared to the immediate bench entrance they used previously to step onto the ice.
When that was first introduced, a reminder on the whiteboard in the dressing room read: ‘Fan Tunnel – 2:45 on clock – Every game rest of season. + your life’
Dundon has stood in the pregame coach’s scrum listening to what Peters has said.
He’s taken family and celebrity friends into the team dressing room before and after games.
He stood by with friend and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, with drinks in hand, while watching the postgame media scrum take place.
Dundon’s the owner, so he can do, and has done whatever he wants.
So many questions
However, has all this recent and abrupt change, late in the season, helped or hindered the players’ ability to focus game-in and game-out?
Has Dundon’s direct, intrusive style relaxed or tightened up this current roster of players?
How will they respond on the ice to the news of Francis’ demotion?
They’re the ones who Francis provided opportunity and much protection from criticism, and allowed them to play and live comfortable NHL pro lives in Raleigh.
He did that to a fault, and unfortunately, it didn’t play to his favor under the current circumstances.
It seems the players’ lack of execution and success played into Dundon’s decision to make the move now, rather than waiting until the end of the season to inevitably do so.
Will all of this put more pressure on a coach in Peters and how he coaches this team for the rest of the season?
He is as intense as anyone and buoyed to a style of play that has gotten even results at best over four years.
His mix of sugar and spice will be paramount to not allow these players to give up on that system and their identity – the Carolina Hurricanes’ identity.
We’ll know soon who will stand accountable for current shortcomings from the dressing room, from behind the bench, from the boardroom, and ultimately from the owner’s suite.
Because, let’s face it, they’re all in this together until the end, for better or worse.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport