Every year, the Carolina Hurricanes face a similar situation. The State Fair occurring across the street from PNC Arena, and the hundreds of thousands of people converging on West Raleigh, forces the Canes onto the road for multiple games very early in the season. The conventional wisdom is that trip largely determines the tone for the early part of the season and often puts the team behind the pace of the rest of the conference, requiring a late surge to contend for a playoff spot.
Or does it?
The early-season trip has been a regular feature of the Canes’ schedule since 2003, a year after a Saturday game against New Jersey coupled with an N.C. State game across the parking lot created havoc, with upwards of 300,000 people attempting to reach the same general area. In some cases, the traffic jams prevented fans from getting to the game at all. Since then, without fail, every year the Canes have hit the road, usually after one or two home games to start the season, and have allowed the Fair to have the stage - and the traffic - to itself.
We’ve gone back through every season that the Canes have taken a trip to avoid the State Fair, and what we’ve found may surprise you. While the Canes’ performance on the trips usually is indicative of how the rest of the season will go, it’s relatively rare that the trip itself has a significant impact on the season’s eventual outcome.
Fair road trip: Bruins (W), Flyers (W), Rangers (L), Flames (T), Oilers (T), Canucks (W), Leafs (T), Sabres (L), Penguins (W)
Record upon returning home: 4-2-3
Final record: 37-35-10 (84 points), 3rd in Southeast Division
This technically wasn’t a State Fair-forced trip, but rather a construction delay: the final work on what is now PNC Arena stretched into October of 1999, forcing the Canes onto a nine-game sojourn to begin the season. The October 29 home opener against the Devils remains the latest home opener the Canes have ever played, although this year’s October 28 game comes close. The Canes hovered around .500 all season, missing the playoffs by one point despite the fifth-most wins in the Eastern Conference.
Fair road trip: Rangers (T), Penguins (T), Bruins (W), Flyers (T)
Record upon returning home: 1-2-4
Final record: 28-34-14-6 (76 points), 3rd in Southeast Division
The first Fair-forced road trip was the only that the Canes got through without a loss of any sort, and while those 76 points were a significant improvement on the previous season’s 61, the Canes still finished 15 points out of the playoffs. A successful road trip that didn’t necessarily portend a successful season, in this case.
If you’re looking for the ideal road trip, this was it. A three-game trip that had a five-day break between games, this trip saw the Canes actually return home in the midst of the trip and gain points in all three games on the road. Obviously we all know how the season ended, but this was one road trip that may have actually paid dividends: the win in Washington was the first of nine in a row and the start of an 11-4 run through Thanksgiving.
Fair road trip: Capitals (L), Panthers (L), Thrashers (W), Penguins (W), Lightning (W), Sabres (L), Islanders (OTL)
Record upon returning home: 3-4-2
Final record: 40-34-8 (88 points), 3rd in Southeast Division
A seven-game trip was tied for the longest the Canes have taken in their years of going on the road to avoid the fair, and it was a doozy: two back-to-back sets, a set of four games in six nights, and still the Canes came out with a halfway respectable record. It wasn’t enough to make the postseason, which the Canes missed by four points, but it certainly didn’t kill their chances right off the bat. What may have been, though, if this had been a five-game trip and gave the Canes a chance to catch their breath? We’ll never know, but if this is a shorter trip the Canes may well have made up those four points later in the season.
Fair road trip: Capitals (L), Maple Leafs (W), Senators (W), Canadiens (W), Penguins (SOL), Flyers (OTL)
Record upon returning home: 4-1-3
Final record: 43-33-6 (92 points), 2nd in Southeast Division
This season will always be remembered for the late-season collapse and last-day loss to Florida that cost the Canes a playoff spot, but that overshadows a great start to the season that saw the team jump out to an early 12-6-3 record, second place in the entire league just before Thanksgiving. The seeds for that collapse, though, were planted in a 6-12-1 free fall in December and January, and the Canes had to work to tread water after that point. It wasn’t the Fair that did the Canes in this season.
A 3-1-2 road trip, including the Canes’ first early-season visit to the West since 1999, had the Canes flying relatively high coming home, but the problem came later in November, a 7-9-1 mark culminating in Peter Laviolette’s dismissal in early December and Paul Maurice’s return behind the bench. Under Maurice, the Canes took off, peaking with a nine-game winning streak that ushered them into the playoffs for the first time since 2006 - still the last time the Canes have visited the postseason - and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference final. The Fair trip didn’t really have an impact on what happened the rest of the way.
This is the ultimate example of the early-season road trip setting the tone for the Canes. The four losses on this trip were the start of a 14-game run without a win, 10 of those losses coming in regulation, and put the Canes in a 2-12-4 hole by mid-November that they had little prayer of recovering from in a conference that had four 100-point teams and a division with a 121-point juggernaut five hours up I-95. Even a .500 record in that 14-game run would have seen the Canes make the playoffs in all likelihood.
Fair road trip: vs. Wild in Helsinki (W, W), Senators (L), Canucks (L), Sharks (W), Kings (L), Coyotes (W)
Record upon returning home: 4-3-0
Final record: 40-31-11 (91 points), 3rd in NHL Southeast Division
This trip was indicative of how the rest of the season went: mostly hovering within a few games of .500 until an 8-2-1 second half of March got the Canes to within a few points of a playoff spot. A nondescript trip followed by a mostly nondescript season.
Fair road trip: Sabres (W), Bruins (W), Blues (OTL), Jets (L)
Record upon returning home: 3-3-2
Final record: 33-33-16 (82 points), 5th in Southeast Division
Again, similar to 2008, a coaching change in late November renders this trip rather minor in the grand scheme of the entire season. They were .500 coming home and .500 at the end of the season, and on either side of that coaching change the Canes were an abysmal 5-14-2. That was what sealed their fate; the 2-1-1 road trip early in the season was an inconsequential part of what was to come.
Fair road trip: Maple Leafs (W), Islanders (W), Wild (L), Avalanche (L)
Record upon returning home: 4-4-3
Final record: 36-35-11 (83 points), 7th in Metropolitan Division
The 2014 Olympics necessitated an early start to the season and a very compressed schedule, and the State Fair also didn’t begin until October 17, so the Canes were able to play five home games before going on the road. They were .500 before they left, .500 when they got home, and .500 at the end of the season, so while the fair trip didn’t dig the Canes into a hole, it also didn’t do them any favors. Essentially the same as 2010-11: another non-noteworthy season.
Fair road trip: Rangers (SOL), Jets (L), Flames (L), Oilers (L), Canucks (L)
Record upon returning home: 0-6-2
Final record: 30-41-11 (71 points), 8th in Metropolitan Division
Hoooo boy. Who remembers this nightmare start to Bill Peters’ first season behind the bench? This and 2009 are the two shining examples of the early-season road trip costing the Canes. They were likely not going anywhere as it was, but take that road trip away and the Canes are at least within shouting distance of .500. With it, though, they stood little prayer of making any noise the rest of the season, and even a five-wins-in-six run to start November wasn’t enough to overcome the obstacles the Canes placed in their own way in October.
Fair road trip: Red Wings (W), Capitals (L), Avalanche (W), Kings (L), Sharks (L), Red Wings (W), Islanders (W)
Record upon returning home: 4-6-0
Final record: 35-31-16 (86 points), 6th in Metropolitan Division
Boy, this was an odd trip: both of the season’s trips to Detroit came in the same road trip within nine days of each other, and while the trip itself was successful the early part of the season wasn’t so much. The Canes certainly weren’t able to take any momentum from their trip, returning home to promptly lay a 4-7-4 egg of a record in the next month-plus and largely hovering within a few games either side of .500 the rest of the way.
Overall trip record: 28-22-11 with 6 ties
Overall record in trip seasons: 454-396-110 with 24 ties
From looking at the numbers, there are only two trips that really put the Canes in an early-season hole that they couldn’t recover from, and only 2009-10 really stands out as an example of a poor road trip and the ensuing run of games really costing the Canes a reasonable chance at a playoff spot. On the other side of the ledger, in 2005 and 2008, the two seasons the Canes had sustained playoff success, the team played well on the road, but other factors - long winning streaks later on, a coaching change - were more directly impactful than the State Fair trip itself.
So, while the Fair trip may be a worthy indicator of how a season is going to eventually turn out - and that seems fairly consistent, with an average of 1.08 points on the trip and 1.06 for the entire season - it usually doesn’t make or break a season on its own. It’s an inconvenience, but not much more than that despite the narratives surrounding it. It may have more impact on attendance than it does on the Canes’ success in the season following.
With this year’s trip wrapping up tomorrow in Detroit, the Canes will look to wind up with a .500 record and take some momentum with them back home, something they have done surprisingly infrequently off this trip over the years.