The Carolina Hurricanes have developed a theme that has been sustainable for the past decade. Win a few games, lose a lot of games and repeat the process. Making the playoffs has been a pipe dream for this organization. This season is no exception as it is fast becoming a nightmare on ice. Assigning blame for the Hurricanes’ woes is fast becoming a social media sport all its own.
Blame Jim Rutherford
Blame is easily tossed around, but hard to pinpoint. For years it was Jim Rutherford’s fault for not bringing in the kind of talent the team needs, and for signing the ones he did bring in to outrageous deals, for example, Alexander Semin. His five-year $35 million contract extension in March 2013 may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Semin turned out to be a complete disappointment.
Rutherford ignored the word out of the Washington Capitals that said Semin had a “don’t care” attitudes at times, calling him “elite” when he announced the contract extension. But, Semin never lived up to that characterization. He did live up to the “don’t care” attitude. Rutherford’s fault? Maybe or maybe not. But, the extension left the Hurricanes with a problem that was a drag on the team and a big distraction for new head coach Bill Peters.
Rutherford also brought Jordan Staal to the team from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Staal was with the Penguins when they won the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. He is a big center and has tons of experience. But, has he lived up to the 10-year $60 million contract Rutherford gave him? If one counts intangibles such as size and being a presence to be dealt with up the middle then perhaps. But, he has not been productive beyond a certain level, hitting 50 points only once in his career.
Rutherford can take the blame for a lot of the woes that the Hurricanes have had since their last playoff appearance. He was not aggressive in going after players that would help the team win. But, maybe that was not entirely his fault.
Blame Peter Karmanos
Peter Karmanos owned the Hurricanes when they were the Hartford Whalers. He purchased them in 1994 and promptly moved the team to North Carolina at the end of the 1996-97 season. His Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, naturally the high point for the team.
The Hurricanes’ last playoff appearance was in 2009, and many blame Karmanos for not allowing his general managers – Rutherford and later Ron Francis – to go out and find the players that the team needed to help them make the playoffs. The word was that due to his desire to sell the team, Karmanos was not willing to open the checkbook and pay for talent because he did not want the team encumbered with long-term contracts that might dissuade a potential buyer.
Karmanos has never been one to mince words when it comes to paying for big-time players. The most glaring example of this is when he
Rutherford would do his best to stockpile picks saying, “we’re accumulating assets.” Francis set out to rebuild the team from the ground up with young prospects. He was well looking at the beginning of his fifth season when new owner Tom Dundon summarily relieved him of his duties.
Blame Ron Francis (Maybe Bill Peters)
Many would like to blame Ron Francis for where the team has been languishing over the past few years. Paired with a new head coach in Peters, the Francis era was to be different. The team was going to gel into a playoff contender under Francis’ carefully thought out management and Peters’ tough, fundamentally sound hockey.
The team did not gel into a playoff contender, coming seriously close one season but lacking in any sort of year-to-year progress under Francis/Peters. Peters had to contend with Semin and also a goaltending situation that would have made Scotty Bowman lose his mind.
First, Francis shipped out Anton Khudobin, who played very well but got no offense from the team when he was in-goal. As recently as last season with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin was proving that he was a goaltender that the Hurricanes should have kept and tried harder to develop. Instead, Francis dropped two goalies onto the ice that doomed Peters’ tenure with the ‘Canes.
Eddie Lack and Scott Darling were both signed to contracts with the Hurricanes and they both turned out to be abysmal. Francis apparently did not have the eye for selecting a goaltender. At times it seemed that Lack could not have stopped a big ball. Darling, even worse at times, was just never able to show that he could be a starter for the Hurricanes.
While Francis can take credit for trying to build a young squad into a competitive force, he hamstrung Peters with bad goaltenders. Also, whether it was Francis or Karmanos or both, Peters never got the kind of scoring forward help that he needed and even publicly as for at the end of the 2017 season.
People like to criticize Peters for changing his lines too much and for being too stringent in his application of positional hockey. But, Peters may prove all of his naysayers wrong as he is at the helm of a Calgary Flames team that is looking to make a playoff run at the rate they are going currently.
Blame Tom Dundon and Crew
Here we are in the present. Christmas is upon us and the Hurricanes seem to be as bad as ever. Who is to blame now? Is it Dundon for selecting a head coach with no head coaching experience? Rod Brind’Amour wanted the job, very likely came at a price Dundon liked and is a fan favorite. But, his inexperience as a head coach is showing.
Maybe Dundon is willing to be patient and hope that the learning curve for one of the league’s best players in history will not be too steep for him to succeed as a coach. The fans have responded well to Brind’Amour and are likely to be patient with him to a point, as they were with Francis.
Is it general manager Don Waddell, whose last general manager gig many consider to have cost Atlanta the Thrashers franchise? Certainly not being able to make things work with Jeff Skinner – who at last count has 26 goals this season for the Buffalo Sabres – was a management failure. While the general public is not privy to what the issue really was with Skinner, it seems that something could have been done to keep one of the NHL’s elite goal scorers on the roster. Perhaps not.
Patience not Blame
The Hurricanes are 2-6-1 in December. Their 33 points have them sixth in the Metropolitan Division and six spots back in the chase for a wild-card position. Unless they go on a winning streak of epic proportions, they are essentially out of realistic playoffs consideration.
While every fan has a target for which they want to assign blame for the team’s disappointing performance, it really does no good to fire those verbal blasts. Dundon wants to win as do Waddell and Brind’Amour. The players want to win. It is just going to take a while longer to get the pieces in place that will make this team a playoff contender.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.