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Column: The Hurricanes, The Media & The Future

The Hurricanes’ on-ice product is mediocre at best, and that is reflected in the team’s sparse crowd and lagging attendance. But the local media needs to be smarter about stoking of flames of the team’s possible relocation.

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GM Ron Francis has the Hurricanes pointed in the right direction, starting with the defense led by future cornerstone Noah Hanifin.
GM Ron Francis has the Hurricanes pointed in the right direction, starting with the defense led by future cornerstone Noah Hanifin.
Jamie Kellner

The latest "the Hurricanes are moving" firestorm swept through the Triangle Wednesday night when News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock sent out this tweet:

Darren Dreger, the originator of the report and one of TSN’s major NHL reporters, responded to DeCock on Twitter, clarifying that his comments on NBC was about certain owners wanting 30 stable, healthy teams in their current markets before committing to adding more via expansion, and that Quebec might be better suited for a relocated team than expansion

DeCock shrugged off Dreger’s explanation, saying "the gist" was the same.


So here we are. Again. It is easy for Canadian markets like Quebec — who are bloodthirsty for a return of NHL hockey — to look at Carolina’s sparse crowds the past two seasons and determine a team would do better north of the border. Frankly, it probably would as far as attendance was concerned, even if Carolina was in playoff contention instead of working on Year 7 of making spring tee times instead of postseason travel plans.

A closer look at the NHL’s overall landscape would reveal that hockey in North Carolina — and Florida, Texas, California, and so on — has expanded the NHL’s footprint. Youth hockey is taking hold, leading to more and more Americans being drafted from non-traditional markets — including Raleigh — each year. But it’s also easy to look at Atlanta, a twice-failed NHL city, and see the packed crowds in Winnipeg — where the Thrashers relocated to and were reborn as the Jets — and believe it’s "healthier" for hockey to have another team in Canada, particularly in a city that lost its team to Denver in 1995.

The Canadian mainstream media is a driving force in all this. Outlets like TSN cover the Canadian teams far more fervently than they do the American-based teams, though they still cover the league as a whole far more thoroughly than ESPN.

That leads to tweets like this from Sportsnet, another Canadian media outlet:

Is it fair to compare Carolina’s attendance to that of a QMJHL team? I guess — it’s certainly newsworthy to report on the Hurricanes’ attendance woes. What is not fair is embedding said tweet in an article about Eric Staal’s pending future with the team. The Staal "should he stay or should he go" story has nothing whatsoever to do with Carolina’s attendance, and it’s just another jab by the Canadian media to make Raleigh look like a bad market and reiterate how "great" things would be in Quebec.

The thing is, players like Staal — who has been here his entire career, since he was 18 years old — know that Raleigh is not only capable of being a good market, but it’s also a great place to live and raise a family. How many players have asked to be traded from the Hurricanes for anything other than family circumstances (Jeff O’Neill for example) or simply on-ice reasons? Meanwhile, the Jets have been back in Winnipeg for just five seasons and we’ve already had multiple instances of players wanting out (Evander Kane), or not wanting to come (Ilya Bryzgalov).

But like with Raleigh, those things will go away for the Jets when they start winning, and they are poised to do so with a stocked cupboard of prospects and young talent. And if the Jets were to go on a half decade or more playoff drought, you can bet they too would see a dip in attendance, even if it wasn’t as stark as Carolina’s.

Back to the start of all this. On Thursday’s evening commute broadcast, 99.9 The Fan co-hosts Adam Gold and Joe Ovies discussed the incident, clarifying the circumstances (the Hurricanes’ great lease with PNC Arena, the recently announced multi-million dollar renovation to the facility, and how Carolina’s situation greatly differs from that of the Florida Panthers) but ultimately giving DeCock a pass on reigniting this entire debate.

Yes, Dreger is the initial kindling for this fire. Saying "Carolina" and "relocation" in the same sentence was the spark, but the flame was DeCock’s tweet. In the least, DeCock’s tweet was lazy — he was seemingly covering the NC State basketball game at the time, hence the "I did not see it" part of his comments — and it was downright irresponsible at worst. Even Dreger made that clear by coming back at DeCock with a series of tweets clarifying what he reported.

Part of reporting is vetting the facts before you report on them. Twitter is certainly a different beast — there’s an immediacy to it that allows for more of a stream on consciousness — but when you’re dealing with a hot-button issue like the area’s only major league level professional sports team relocating to another city, the readership deserves more, especially on the heels of the current beat writer, Chip Alexander, quoting NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in reiterating the league’s commitment to hockey in Raleigh just a week earlier (DeCock did mention this in a subsequent tweet).

Furthermore, DeCock — who did a very good job as the N&O’s Hurricanes beat writer before moving on to his current position — already has a reputation as a columnist who wants to stir the pot: you would be hard-pressed to find a feel-good story about the Hurricanes in among DeCock’s columns, and I’m sure he would rightfully argue the team deserves criticism given their futility since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

But it’s not like things haven’t changed in the Hurricanes’ front office. Yes, Peter Karmanos Jr. is still the owner, and his eccentric sales pitch of the Hurricanes seems to include him staying in control for a while (see Charles YWang with the Islanders), which might be scaring off potential buyers. However, Jim Rutherford and his mad grabs to return to the postseason are gone in favor or Ron Francis’ seemingly steady hand and plans to rebuild the right way — from the ground up. The fruits of his labor have not ripened yet, but objective observers see Carolina on the rise, particularly on defense, where Carolina looks to be playing not just three rookies, but three first-year pros tonight with the promotion of rookie Jaccob Slavin.

With that will hopefully come wins, and an eventual return to the postseason. Historically, the Hurricanes have drawn extremely well in the playoffs, and that success would carry over into season ticket sales, and thankfully return Carolina to respectability among its fellow franchises. But that is all Franchise Building 101.

Just as knowing what someone said before reporting it on your own is Journalism 101.