All sports fans can agree on one simple truth. Losing sucks, and there is nothing that can ease the pain of a loss. There is nothing that can ease the gut wrenching pain of losing multiple games in a row. There is most certainly nothing that can ease the pain of supporting a team who doesn’t make the playoffs year after year. As fans however, we need to realize that losing is an important part of every sport we watch.
Carolina Hurricanes fans know the pain of losing all to well, especially since the wounds are fresh. The Hurricanes are currently sitting on a seven year playoff drought. Nine games into this new season, we sit in last place in the Eastern Conference and hold an uninspiring 2-4-3 record. The young team has yet to establish an identity, and is currently suffering from a lack of consistent play. However, there is a much bigger picture to be looked at.
It feels like the worst of times for Canes fans, but I can assure you the Hurricanes are right where they want to be. Now hear me out, I can not guarantee what the future holds. I will not predict what this season has in store for our team, and of course plans can always go awry. However, I will say with out a doubt, that we are in a good spot.
In order for anything you are about to read to have any meaning, two things need to be made very clear. First, the Hurricanes are not in a win-now mode. While being upset about losing is perfectly acceptable, there needs to be a collective understanding that the Hurricanes are in the midst of a rebuild, and are in a growing phase. Second, this has happened before, and it happens more times than people are willing to realize. The term “rebuild” is something fans dread hearing, and is often times not done correctly. When a rebuild is performed correctly however, it is a thing of beauty and can take a franchise to the promise land.
It usually takes missing the playoffs a couple seasons for a team to decide on rebuilding. In the Hurricanes case, this is no different. Rod Brind’Amour raised that glorious Stanley Cup in the 05-06 season and then we missed the playoffs four out of the next five seasons. This is when former general manager Jim Rutherford took the Canes into a half hearted rebuild. Wanting to rebuild but not committing to it fully can draw the process out and have undesired affects. Yes, we’re looking at you Cleveland Browns.
In 2014, with things not moving in a positive direction, Rutherford stepped down and Ron Francis’ reign began. From day one, Francis was open and transparent with the fanbase. There would be a full blown rebuild, and it would not be pretty at first. Francis traded away anyone who he did not see as being key to the long term future and began racking up draft picks. Francis began building a team around the young core left from the Rutherford era: Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk. Since then he has drafted a young core of defense (Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, Haydn Fleury, and Jake Bean) that should be together for years to come. Francis has drafted a mix of big strong forwards and young skilled scoring forwards (Sebastian Aho, Sergey Tolchinsky, Julien Gauthier, and Nicolas Roy). The Canes also have a couple young goalie prospects on the way in Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth.
If you want to look at examples of the right way to rebuild a team, look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings. When rebuilding, these are the two teams that you absolutely want to model your team after. They were built from the back end forward. The model of a championship team is this: big, strong, veteran, puck moving defense core; a mix of big, tough forwards, and fast, skilled goal scoring forwards; an athletic goaltender that can bail your team out of the worst of defensive break downs. In Chicago’s case, the defensive core is Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Their offensive core consists of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa. The Blackhawks athletic goal tender who bails them out of break downs is Corey Crawford. Chicago has been able to keep this core of players together for almost a decade now, and it has paid off.
Since Francis took over, the Hurricanes have seen some rough years, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the two other teams I have mentioned. Most people immediately think Stanley Cup champions and consistent playoff appearances when they hear “Chicago Blackhawks”. Let me remind you though, before the Blackhawks won three cups in a span of seven years, they went through a rough patch as well. Nobody wants to remember the lone playoff appearance over a span of ten years, before becoming one of the leagues premier teams. Need further evidence of how a successful rebuild can turn a franchise around? The Kings have won two Cups over the past five years. Before that though, they had a six year playoff drought.
Carolina Hurricanes Playoff Drought
Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Drought
Los Angeles Kings Playoff Drought
Does anything thing stick out from those lists of yearly results? Do you see a trend? I sure do. Trust me when I say this Canes fans, our boys are on the right path. No matter how painful it is to see our team lose, there is a bigger goal at stake. This team will be very dangerous once the puzzle pieces finally come together, and its very exciting to see Ron Francis rebuilding the Hurricanes the right way. The Hurricanes have the salary cap space to be able to lock this young core up for a long time. Whats the old saying? It is always darkest before it is light, and as cheesy as it sounds, it couldn’t be truer.