Ed. note: yes, the author is still alive. I know, I'm shocked too.
"I need the fans to be even more patient than they have been."
Remember the running gag on The Simpsons where Homer's "d'oh!" is listed in the script as "(annoyed grunt)"? Those 13 words, delivered in an interview to John Forslund last night by Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, resulted in a multitude of (annoyed grunt)s from Caniac Nation.
There are three things that a person in an authority role can say and/or do when discussing an underachieving team. First, the person (be it a coach, GM, owner, whoever) can play the diplomat, not naming names and just going with "we need to be better" platitudes that sound good but are really just glittering generalities. Second, he can name names, as Jim Rutherford did with Alexander Semin earlier in the season.
(That said, this column is not about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of JR having done so. Put down your pitchforks and torches, please.)
Third, the person can act to make the situation better.
Note that the third option is not mutually exclusive of the other two. In fact, the correct course of action may be a combination of the third option with one of the others. But for too long, fans of this team have heard plenty of option one, very little of option two and a frustrating absence of number three.
Having patience is one thing. But when the owner of a professional sports franchise goes on the air, to a specialized audience that is interested in his product specifically (as opposed to granting an interview to a more mass-market audience, on sports talk radio or a local news sportscast, for example), and publicly begs for more patience, he'd better have an idea of what action he's going to take to justify that request.
Now, it would be unfair to Mr. Karmanos, or anyone else on the fourth floor of the PNC, to expect him go on the air and openly say what his future plans are. He's a businessman; he knows better. More to the point, ask Mike Gillis how that works out.
And if he doesn't want to name names, fine. I happen to believe, and I know this is a minority opinion but I'll voice it anyway, that naming names in public does more harm than good. It's a cathartic release for a fanbase to hear it, yes, but it does nothing to improve things in the locker room and sometimes can actually lead to more difficulties further down the road if other teams know that a player has fallen out of favor.
However, the time for patience has come and gone. Jim Rutherford has had patience with the core of his team dating to their Eastern Conference Final run in 2009, and where has it gotten them? Five straight seasons out of the playoffs, that's where.
"Have patience. We have a good core." In retrospect, they're empty words that delayed the inevitable.
We know that changes are afoot this offseason with the likely retirement of Mr. Rutherford and the ascension of Ron Francis to the corner office. Now's as good a time as ever to ask for more patience, given that transition.
And, let's be honest, it's simply impossible to completely make over a roster at the drop of the hat. If every player who was traded and/or demoted by fans on Twitter during the course of a season actually moved each time they were mentioned, the team picture would need to be taken using the panoramic feature on an iPhone.
But that doesn't excuse the need to sometimes make a change for the sake of making a change. This is a results business, yes, but it's also a PR business. With every PR gaffe that shoots the team in the foot, it makes it that much more difficult to get fans excited - and without fans being excited, what difference do the results make?
During the interview, Mr. Karmanos mentioned that season-ticket renewals are down. The time is nigh to give people a reason to renew or sign up for new season tickets. Platitudes won't do the trick.
There's a difference between "have patience, we're working on it" and "have patience, just trust us." The first is totally fine and, given the absence of the second, would be understood and accepted. The problem comes when the second is used for so long that the fans have become numb to it, and that's where we are now. When the second phrase has no meaning, the first loses its own as well.
Until he follows through on them, the owner's words during last night's first intermission are just as empty and meaningless as all the other ones that have come before them. Fans have heard them before; what makes this time different from all the others?
Patience, sure. But the Canes owe it to those patient fans to give them something other than another false dawn. Mr. Karmanos' words last night, on their face, amount to nothing more than that.
Please, Mr. K - prove me wrong. I'd love for this column to be outdated in four months' time. We'll see if it is, or if this summer is going to be another never-ending series of (annoyed grunt)s.