5 Fun Facts Behind Hurricanes’ Latest Run to Stanley Cup Semis

By David Glenn

Just five years ago, the Carolina Hurricanes were considered among the most downtrodden franchises in the National Hockey League.

Now they’re a surging semifinalist for hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, and most analytics-based projections consider them a slight favorite over the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers to win it all.

The Canes will host the Panthers on Thursday (8 pm, TNT) and Saturday (8 pm, TNT) at PNC Arena in Raleigh in the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series.

Here are five tidbits of background information worth considering as meaningful context as the Hurricanes continue their pursuit of the Cup.

  1. The Hurricanes already are responsible for the highest-level professional team championship in North Carolina history.

This is easy for some sports fans to forget, given that the NHL didn’t arrive in North Carolina until 1997, and the Hurricanes’ one and — for now — only Stanley Cup title came 17 years ago, in 2006, but at the highest levels of pro sports, what would possibly rank higher?

The Carolina Panthers, whose first National Football League season was in 1995, have never won the Super Bowl. The Charlotte Hornets, who began play in the National Basketball Association in 1988, have never even made the conference finals, much less challenged for an NBA title. North Carolina, of course, has never had a Major League Baseball team.

With all due respect to the North Carolina Courage (2018 and 2019 champions of the National Women’s Soccer League), a handful of successful but defunct franchises such as the Charlotte Heat (1987 and 1988 champions of World Team Tennis!) and other top-level pro teams, and with a quick nod to the very real team aspect of NASCAR (whose racing teams are almost all based in North Carolina), the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup title deserves top billing.

While the NHL ranks well behind the NFL, NBA and MLB in terms of popularity and revenue, it gradually has become the fifth-highest-revenue league in pro sports (at more than $5 billion annually), well behind the three above-mentioned American-based entities and only slightly behind the London-based Premier League, the highest-revenue soccer league in the world.

  1. Regardless of how this season ends, the Hurricanes are in the midst of the greatest extended run in their NHL history, which dates (pre-North Carolina relocation) to 1979.

Although exactly half of the NHL’s teams (16 of 32) make the playoffs in a given year, it’s not easy to make the postseason five years in a row, as the Hurricanes now have done (2019 through 2023), and it’s not easy to win consistently once you get there.

League-wide, only the Boston Bruins (seven), Toronto Maple Leafs (seven), Colorado Avalanche (six) and Tampa Bay Lightning (six) have longer active postseason streaks. All four of those teams, of course, already have been eliminated from this year’s playoffs.

The Hartford Whalers, while largely unsuccessful prior to their move to North Carolina, actually hold the franchise record for consecutive playoff appearances, with seven straight from 1986 through 1992. (They had missed the playoffs for the five straight years immediately before that streak and then missed the playoffs for the five straight years immediately after that streak.) However, the Whalers won only one of the eight postseason series they played from 1986-92.

The Hurricanes’ five-year streak of postseason appearances thus far has included seven series victories. They won their first-round series every year in this stretch, and they won their second-round series in 2019 and 2023, thus advancing to the Eastern Conference final.

  1. Everything changed in 2018, with new owner Tom Dundon, mostly for the better.

By the time long-time Whalers/Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos sold his majority interest in the Hurricanes, in 2018, the Canes had become an embarrassment. Their attendance numbers ranked at or near the bottom of the league every year, and they missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons (2009-10 through 2017-18), one of the worst such streaks in NHL history.

Enter Tom Dundon, then only 46 years old, a self-made billionaire from Texas who had made his initial fortune in the subprime auto lending industry. At the time, he was not at all a “hockey guy” — didn’t play the sport, didn’t watch it much — and most of his family and friends didn’t even know there was an NHL team in North Carolina when he purchased the Hurricanes.

Now 51, Dundon plays the part of the eccentric billionaire well. He still lives with his wife and five children in Dallas; during his extended stretches in Raleigh, he often travels by private plane and lives out of high-end hotels. Nevertheless, his most frequent attire remains that of a college guy — Hurricanes pullover, Hurricanes baseball cap — and, for several years, he often hitched rides to meals and appointments because he didn’t have his own vehicle in Raleigh.

While Dundon has received criticism from many Hurricanes fans for some of his fiscal decisions, including rising ticket/concession/parking prices and the compensation-related departures of extremely popular broadcasters Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund, he has earned praise for his willingness to spend big money in other areas, including on highly productive young players.

After many seasons under Karmanos in which the Hurricanes didn’t spend close to the NHL salary cap, Dundon has shown repeatedly that he’s willing to spend big. Again this season, the Hurricanes’ player payroll virtually matched the league’s salary cap ($82.5 million).

“I don’t think in terms of an annual budget. I think in terms of value,” Dundon said. “Where we see value, we’ll pay for it.”

In the 2019 offseason, after the big-money Montreal Canadiens signed young Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho to a front-loaded five-year, $42.3 million offer sheet, essentially challenging the new Canes owner’s deep pockets, Dundon matched the offer and retained Aho within a week.

  1. One of Dundon’s first decisions proved to be among his best: hiring head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

The owner-coach relationship between Dundon and Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes’ fifth-year head coach, seems uncommon in professional sports.

Dundon openly describes Brind’Amour as one of the most impressive people and leaders he’s ever met, in any context, in his entire life. He says he has a hard time imagining doing anything as an owner, even beyond personnel decisions, if Brind’Amour were adamantly opposed to the idea. He says he believes that Brind’Amour, who’s been universally respected around the NHL since his playing days, is the #1 reason free agents consider the Canes during the offseason.

Dundon even has said publicly, and apparently genuinely, that he’s not sure he will want to own the Hurricanes whenever the day comes that Brind’Amour, 52, is no longer the coach.

“He’s definitely our most important person,” Dundon said. “You have to separate players from everyone else, obviously, but this wouldn’t have worked without Rod.”

For a long time, Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes’ gritty captain and legendary on-ice/off-ice leader when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, wasn’t sure he wanted to be a full-time coach.

Within months of his retirement as a player, following the 2009-10 season, Brind’Amour married Amy Biedenbach, daughter of legendary UNC Asheville basketball coach (and former NC State assistant) Eddie Biedenbach. The following year, in 2011, the Brind’Amours had a son, Brooks. Rod Brind’Amour also has three children from a previous marriage.

Initially, in 2010, Brind’Amour took only a part-time coaching role with the Hurricanes, as he wanted to focus on being a family man, as a husband and father of four. By 2011, though, he was a full-time assistant, and in 2018 he got his chance as the Canes’ head coach.

Asked about the starting point for the Hurricanes’ dramatic culture change, which enabled them to go directly from nine straight playoff misses to five straight playoff appearances, Dundon used only four words.

“Hiring Rod,” Dundon said. “That’s it.”

  1. This is no Cinderella story, as the Hurricanes had the second-best record during the NHL’s six-month-long, 82-game regular season, which ended in mid-April.

At this point, the Hurricanes are truly proven commodities in almost every way.

During the regular season, only the record-setting Boston Bruins (65-12-5; 135 points) had a better record than the Hurricanes (52-21-9; 113 points). Similarly, only the Bruins gave up fewer goals than the Canes, whose defense-first mindset, consistent discipline and tight neutral-zone coverage helped limit opponents to only 2.6 goals per game.

The Hurricanes may have the best six-man defensive rotation in franchise history.

Brent Burns and Jaccob Slavin, who comprise the team’s top defensive pairing, are about as good as it gets on the back line. Burns, an offensive-minded six-time All-Star who made his NHL debut in 2003, somehow is playing some of the best hockey of his life at 38 years old, as he continues his two-decades-long quest for his first Stanley Cup. Slavin, 29, is a brilliant, defensive-minded anchor in his eighth season with the Hurricanes, who drafted him in 2012.

Veteran goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, while clearly beneficiaries of the Canes’ air-tight defensive system, have risen above their modest playoff pasts. Andersen, 33, often was a scapegoat while with Toronto; during this postseason, he’s 5-0-0 with a stellar 1.80 goals against average. Raanta, 34, had never won an NHL playoff game prior to last season, yet he has nine postseason victories with Carolina over these past two years.

Against Florida, the Hurricanes’ greatest area of concern is probably offensive depth, especially with the Panthers’ $70 million (over seven seasons) goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, emerging as perhaps the hottest netminder of the 2023 postseason. Florida had the fewest regular-season points among this year’s 16 playoff teams, but the Panthers upset the top-seeded Bruins and then shut down second-seeded Toronto (only 10 goals in a five-game series) to reach this point.

Aho, a 2015 second-round draft pick of the Hurricanes, has developed into an elite NHL forward. Only 25 years old, he’s been named the team MVP in five of the last six seasons, and he’s already the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff points, goals and assists. With 10 points and five goals during this postseason, he’s tied for the team lead in those categories.

Elsewhere, young star Andrei Svechnikov, a 23-year-old right wing, suffered a season-ending knee injury in March. Another top scorer, veteran left wing Teuvo Teravainen, has missed the last month with a hand injury but is expected to return against the Panthers. Forward Martin Necas, 24, had a breakout regular season, leading the Canes with 43 assists and 71 points, but he was relatively quiet in the first two rounds of the postseason.

Brind’Amour won the NHL’s coach of the year honor in 2021, after the Hurricanes finished with the league’s third-best record during a COVID-shortened campaign. The Canes lost a second-round series that year to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to capture the Stanley Cup.

This time, the Hurricanes appear to be at least as good as anyone else who’s still skating. That doesn’t guarantee another Stanley Cup, of course, but it’s probably the Canes’ best chance since 2006 to leave another everlasting mark on the North Carolina sports scene.

(featured image via Associated Press/Karl B. DeBlaker) 

David Glenn (DavidGlennShow.com@DavidGlennShow) is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987.

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