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COLUMN: Hurricanes-Checkers split a blow to Carolina hockey

Things get interesting between the Canes and the Checkers.

Jamie Kellner

Oh, boy.

Hurricanes fans haven’t been treated to any hockey headlines with the NHL on hold amid the COVID-19 crisis. The battles on the ice have been put on hold but a battle is currently raging between the Carolina Hurricanes and...its minor league affiliate the Charlotte Checkers?

A rumor has been circulating for some time that the Hurricanes were exploring options with the Chicago Wolves, first reported by Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest. Recalling the report, at the time - it seemed ridiculous. With Wednesday’s report from The News & Observer, Charlotte and the Hurricanes are all but on the outs.

Charlotte released a strong statement about the report from the N&O:

“While we are aware that the Carolina Hurricanes are nearing an affiliation agreement with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, the Hurricanes have had little dialogue with us regarding this matter. In an era when NHL teams are placing great value on affiliations with closer proximity between the two clubs, we understand the confusion that such a move would cause. We will explore other options for our affiliation and look forward to continuing in the American Hockey League when play resumes.”

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell took the PR approach and told the newspaper that “nothing was done yet” and that they were looking at all options. But it’s understandable that Chicago has become an enticing option. The report details the Wolves would pay the Hurricanes a larger affiliation fee. We know Tom Dundon and the approach he has taken since purchasing the team: capitalize in the areas he could, help shape a competitive team, improve the fan experience and help make the Hurricanes a relevant franchise again. This, however, seems foolish.

Having the Hurricanes, Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Charlotte Checkers within two states of each other sets an ideal situation for the pro team and its minor league players. The proximity helps in terms of travel logistics and quick call-ups for players that may not be feeling as well as during a morning skate. Besides, didn’t the Hurricanes brand it as #OneCarolina when they added Greenville to their affiliation list? Seems like a quick turnaround, especially just a year removed from the Checkers winning their first Calder Cup Championship.

The N&O report suggests Florida as the next possible team to fill the empty void in Charlotte. The logistics make sense - shortening the distance for the Panthers whose current affiliate is in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Interest in Charlotte is better for the Hurricanes as well. Fans have made the trip to watch the “junior Canes” play given the 2.5 hour proximity and it’s easy to follow the minor league affiliate given how much support the parent team has shown, especially during last year’s Calder Cup Championship run.

But now that relationship seems superficial from an outside view - replaced with visions of dollar signs and greater pastures for the farm team. But remember - sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.