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Editorial: Letting John Forslund walk would be a mistake

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If a deal isn’t reached to keep John Forslund as the Hurricanes’ play-by-play man, it would be a tremendous loss to the team and its fan base.

Jamie Kellner

It would have taken a pretty big piece of news this week to overshadow the Hurricanes returning to the ice under Phase 2 of the NHL’s return to play plan. Tuesday, one emerged.

Luke DeCock of the News & Observer first reported Tuesday that long-time television play by play announcer John Forslund’s contract was about to expire, and the two sides hadn’t made progress on a new deal (Tripp Tracy’s deal was also up but he has re-signed). Wednesday, Mark Armstrong of ABC11 spoke to Forslund, as well as general manager Don Waddell, who said it would be fair to call Forslund a financial casualty of coronavirus if he moved on.

The most difficult to read comment from Forslund’s interview with Armstrong was “I don’t want to go off into the sunset, but today, I am.”

Thursday night on a live edition of the Adam Gold podcast, Forslund told Gold and Alec Campbell of 99.9 The Fan that he has to look at his options at this stage of his life, and that he “isn’t closing any doors with the Hurricanes, but isn’t overly optimistic” about the situation. He said he met with Waddell last Saturday, Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon Monday, and his agent, Peter Cooney, met with Waddell Tuesday.

So, barring an unforeseen development, it sounds like Forslund’s run as play-by-play man for the Hurricanes and Hartford Whalers, which began in 1995 (he's been with the organization since 1991), is coming to an end. And that is, simply put, a shame; it’s a shame for so many reasons.

Forslund is widely regarded as the best in the business when it comes to local play by play announcers. In a recent survey conducted by The Athletic (subscription required), the Canes’ broadcast was voted the best in the NHL.

Forslund’s knowledge of the game is top-notch, and he puts in hours of prep work for each game. His witty phrases such as “Hey hey whaddya say” and “That’s hockey, baby!” have been the backdrop for all of the classic Hurricanes moments. In fact, think of your favorite Hurricanes memory, right now. Allow the moment to play out in your head. We’re willing to bet John Forslund’s voice played over that moment.

Think back to the Hurricanes clinching a playoff spot in game 81 last year, ending a nine-season drought. The Canes needed a win over the Devils and a Montreal Canadiens loss to the Washington Capitals. In the waning minutes, Forslund seamlessly wove updates from the Montreal game with his call of the Hurricanes’ win.

So, why is this happening? Why is there even a chance, let alone a very good one, that Forslund may be walking out the door? Our speculation is that Tom Dundon, right or wrong, has a way of doing things.

A pattern has emerged in his time in Raleigh that points to a simple philosophy —prioritize spending on players and the product on the ice, and find value in other areas. Allowing Chuck Kation to move on is a good example.

It’s completely understandable to have a way of doing things, and stick to a philosophy. And Dundon’s has paid off for the Canes. He’s spent to the cap, and the on-ice product in his first two full-ish seasons as owner has been very good.

As Gold pointed out on Thursday night’s podcast, Dundon spoke almost immediately upon his arrival about “the fan experience”, and making sure fans have a good time.

John Forslund is universally beloved by Canes fans, not only for his ability to bring Canes games to life, but also because his relationship with the fans goes beyond the game.He calls the alumni games, and takes the time to learn about the participants so he can personalize the experience with his game call. He emcees the draft parties. He hosts the Canes Foundation fundraiser, and stands at the finish line to announce every runner in the Canes 5K.

John Forslund signs autographs on the red carpet at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game.
Jamie Kellner

And, of course, watching Hurricanes games on TV would never be the same. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be a long time before large numbers of fans can attend Hurricanes games again.

Does it really make sense to let your long-time, world-class voice of the team go when it’s more important than ever to get fans watching games on TV?

The Hurricanes wouldn’t just be losing Forslund as an announcer, but as an ambassador as well. Another point Dundon stressed upon taking over was making the Hurricanes relevant.

Nothing’s going to do more towards making the team relevant than the product on the ice. But, over the years, through the good times and, especially, the bad, who’s done more work towards making the Hurricanes relevant than John Forslund?

Whenever Hurricanes news breaks, and a national hockey TV show, radio show or podcast, needs a guest to break it down from a Hurricanes perspective, who are they calling? More often than not, John Forslund.

When the franchise came under fire through a 10-year playoff drought, attendance woes, and relocation rumors, there were few bigger defenders of this market, its fans and what it can be than Forslund.

Forslund is widely known to other fan bases as one of the best, if not the best, announcers in hockey. He won the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year Award last year.

The team could not have asked for a better representative for the entirety of its existence.

Both sides can be understood here. Times are tough financially due to the current crisis. The Hurricanes have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization in its entirety, and Forslund is justified in asking for compensation commensurate with his expertise and industry reputation.

But, at the end of the day, Dundon and the Hurricanes have to weigh the pros and cons of possibly letting Forslund walk. Given logic applied in other situations, it’s possible they think moving on from Forslund to find value and save some money would be outweighed by the negatives.

They’d be mistaken in taking that path. John Forslund is the voice of the Carolina Hurricanes, and it’s with the Carolina Hurricanes that he belongs.