The honeymoon from January through April of 2018
The change in ownership last January ushered in a new era in Carolina Hurricanes hockey. The change was not just lip service as February kicked off with some generous and somewhat controversial ticket promotions. Then after the season concluded the changeover organizationally was even more striking. Before season ended Ron Francis was sent to some random mail room job initially and then ousted altogether a bit later.
But on the ice and in the standings nothing changed instantly when Dundon took over. The team still entered January with a deficit. The team still pushed a bit to nearly climb back into in February before floundering and withdrawing from the playoff hunt. Then from life support, the team rose up in March for its usual ‘too little too late’ push.
So though there were some fast changes and reasons for hope, the trajectory of last January through April were painfully familiar to Canes fans who had tracked the team in years prior.
Fast out of the gate for the new era with Rod Brind’Amour
Once the season ended, out was Bill Peters and in was rookie head coach Rod Brind’Amour. Long-time star Jeff Skinner was jettisoned for only prospects. Justin Williams was named the new captain. And the roster changeover was pretty significant.
And preseason yielded a first glimpse and a tremendous one at that of what this new era of Hurricanes hockey was supposed to look like under Rod Brind’Amour. The team stormed through preseason taking no prisoners and playing a suffocating brand of hockey with a forecheck on steroids and pace to boot. And for those who shrugged it off as preseason, the Hurricanes were able to carry the momentum into the regular season. The team surged early, won in the same way it did in preseason and launched to the top of the standings.
A relapse to the bad version of normal
But the surge was short-lived. The team played its way back to the middle by the end of November and then plummeted in December. What seemed like something new and different was suddenly all too familiar again with the team entering January trying to climb out of a hole dug during the first half of the season.
With a cast of characters that includes AHL call ups Greg McKegg and Saku Maenalanen, the Hurricanes surged again and climbed nearly back to the playoff cut line in January, and the winning ways have continued into February. When the Hurricanes start a short burst of three home games in four nights, the team will be only three points out of a playoff spot and very much back in the hunt.
Trying to avoid a familiar path
Mostly Canes fans talk about digging holes in the front part of the season and then not being able to overcome them. That part of the story is entirely true. But for me what is even more interesting has been the team’s repeat ability to surge and play its way to within reach of the playoffs and then seem to bounce off some kind of ceiling and crash back down the standings.
In this vein, the Hurricanes in recent years have played some of their worst hockey leading up to the trade deadline often right after the latest mini-surge.
The Hurricanes played four out of five games at home leading up to the 2016 NHL trade deadline and lost four out of five of those games.
The Hurricanes stumbled to a 1-3-1 record leading up to the 2017 NHL trade deadline. The team also lost the two games prior to that for a nasty 1-5-1 skid leading into the deadline.
The Canes posted a miserable 0-4-1 record leading into the trade deadline and putting multiple nails in the coffin of the 2017-18 season.
In all three cases, the team rebounded seemingly once the pressure was off and the team had nothing to lose. But for many fans who have been through the thick and thin, the March ‘too little too late’ rallies are some painfully weird mix of reprieve down the stretch and salt in open wounds.
The road ahead
Here we sit with ten days and five games to go before the 2019 NHL trade deadline. The team is still in the mix at three points back back with little room for error.
The vibe and trajectory for actual results are both incredibly positive right now. But those who have tracked the team and have a good memory know that even amidst the wreckage in the past few years there have always been bursts of production and reason for hope only to have it crushed under the weight of a pre-trade deadline swoon.
In addition, the coach, captain and a significant part of the roster are now.
One can legitimately find reasons why things will be different this time, but the question is, “Will it?”
The slate ahead features three straight home games against the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers. Then the run of games ends with road match ups against the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars.
With only 25 games remaining, the team needs to be rising not falling heading into late February.
Can it? Will it?
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the team’s 2-11-2 mark heading into the trade deadline over the past three years? Is it just random coincidence or is there something with the pressure, the time of year, an inability to keep the pedal down or something else that causes this to recur?
2) What is your prediction for the next five games? More rising? Or another painful fall?