Carolina Hurricanes: Another Missed Postseason Raises Concerns for Future

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Carolina Hurricanes: Another Missed Postseason Raises Concerns for Future
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

A woeful post-Olympic slump has cursed the Carolina Hurricanes to their fifth consecutive spring without an appearance in the NHL playoffs.

For a franchise facing the triple obstacle of a small market, frustrated fanbase and lack of on-ice success, the disheartening fate of this once-promising 2013-14 season only increases a growing unrest brewing beneath the streets of Raleigh.

Since the miracle run of 2009, the 'Canes are among only five other teams without a single postseason berth—and two of those clubs, Columbus and Dallas, may well end their droughts in the next five weeks. They've won just 156 of 362 games over that time span, but they have also never dropped into a top-four draft pick as compensation for such poor play.

Hence, Carolina remains a team defined by some strong key players with little depth and nonexistent consistency.

The additions of now-cornerstones like Alexander Semin, Jordan Staal, Andrej Sekera and Anton Khudobin over the past two years have helped the team avoid the basement, but—despite a few promising months and generally strong advanced stats—their presence hasn't been enough to get the 'Canes over (or even onto) the playoff bubble.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

That continual pattern of early-season optimism (the team held a top-five position in the East one month into both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns) followed by enormous collapse come March has strained the Hurricanes' fan support into a boiling pot of tension that soon threatens to overflow.

Ticket prices for the 2014-15 season were released last week, and ticket prices indeed could be the ingredient that sparks an eruption.

For the second consecutive year, prices reflect a sweeping increase throughout the arena. The state government isn't helping, either, with a new 6.75 percent sales tax on sports events being implemented in 2014.

Hurricanes Ticket Prices Comparison
Section 2013-14 Price 2014-15 Price
Shoot Twice Goal Zone $25 $42
Fan Zone $30 $38
Terrace Preferred $50 $64
Lower Level North/South $85 $107
Sideline Premier $100 $128
Center Ice Premier/Preferred $110 $144
Second Row $175 $267
First Row $250 $374

Per Hurricanes box office

Yet values are not rising in correlation with prices—and, as any economist can confirm, that's a problem.

Prorated for the new tax, StubHub resale tickets for the Hurricanes-Islanders game on Mar. 25 can be found for $8.54, where non-resale tickets will be sold next season for $38, $18.39 where non-resale will be $64, $23.43 where non-resale will $107, and so forth.

Granted, the Isles are far from a high-interest opponent, and the 'Canes have temporarily extricated all bandwagon fans. But enormous disparities between original and secondary ticket sales exist year-round, revealing that—beneath the fancy charts and glossy print-outs—'Canes ticket demand is falling as prices are rising.

Writes Forbes contributor Darren Heitner:

The Carolina Hurricanes, which entered the season with the 3rd-lowest median ticket price in the league at $56, now own the league’s cheapest ticket ($35).  Many teams have worse records than the Hurricanes, which may prove just how deplorable Raleigh, North Carolina is as a market for professional hockey.

"Deplorable" may be on the harsh side, but the facts do hold somewhat true to Heitner's statement: Raleigh, in addition to its southern climate and college-centric sports following, boasts only the 21st-largest metropolitan population of the 27 cities occupied by the NHL.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

In the final 16 home games of playoff-bound 2008-09, the 'Canes recorded sell-outs of 18,860 eight times and attendances above 18,000 on 14 occasions. In the final 16 home games of ultimately futile 2010-11, the 'Canes topped 18,000 five times and 17,000 11 times.

In their last 16 home games of 2013-14, the 'Canes have drawn more 17,000 to PNC Arena a mere two times. In 36 home games in the entire season to date, they've sold out only twice and topped 18,000 thrice.

Clearly, the Raleigh fanbase is growing frustrated with a pattern of failure—and its collective wallet is tightening at an equal rate. 

Forbes reports that the Hurricanes lost approximately $3.4 million in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season; this campaign isn't shaping up to be much better.

Owner Peter Karmanos has added new investors to cover losses left and right in the past four calendar years, but the ship hasn't yet righted itself.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Peter Karmanos

The true state of Carolina's organizational finances, stability and confidence for the future will be revealed this summer.

The NHL salary cap is expected to rise an additional $6.8 million to $71.1 million next season. The Hurricanes, who have spent to the cap in recent seasons after many years well beneath it, will have to decide if maintaining such spending is still sustainable.

General manager Jim Rutherford will need to distribute the budget toward a whopping six pending restricted free agents (RFAs), including cornerstones such as Justin Faulk and Jiri Tlusty, who will both expect big raises.

Rutherford will also have to play his hand in the open market, for the 'Canes will not be able to compete in 2014-15 without a more experienced bottom six, versatile third-line center and well-rounded second-pairing defense, among other issues.

Following Sunday's 2-1 loss to Edmonton (the Hurricanes' fourth straight defeat at the hands of an Alberta team), Carolina's 67 points in 68 games rank sixth-worst in the NHL. They're six points ahead of fifth-worst Calgary, though, and might have to rely on draft lottery luck to sneak into the top five selections.

The upcoming offseason could be a telling one in many ways. 

Will the Hurricanes be able to end their playoff drought in 2015? How liberally are the Hurricanes willing to spend moving forward? And, most importantly, just how secure is the state of the Hurricanes franchise after a full half-decade of losing?

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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