Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
After giving Carolina Hurricanes’ fans the dream of a lifetime in 2006 with a Stanley Cup championship, the hockey gods turned their backs on the Caneiacs as the hapless Hurricanes have not qualified for the playoffs for the last seven consecutive seasons, as well as nine of the last ten seasons. Overall Carolina has qualified only five times out of the 18 total years they have played.
The franchise has existed for more than 18 years, though, as before 1997 the team was known as the New England (and later Hartford) Whalers.
The New England Whalers were birthed into the World Hockey Association in 1971 and played their inaugural season at the Boston Arena (now the Matthews Arena, home of Hockey East’s Northeastern University Huskies) and the Boston Gaw-den. In 1975 the Whale opened the new Hartford Civic Center after playing part of a season in the Big E Coliseum in West Springfield, Massachusetts. When the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, the franchise officially became the Hartford Whalers, dropping the designation “New England” at the request (read: demand) of the Boston Bruins.
The Whalers only made the playoffs once during their first six years in Hartford, qualified for postseason play the next seven consecutive seasons (only to lose in the opening round each time) and then did not qualify for the next five seasons, before moving to Carolina in 1997 to become the Hurricanes.
The Blues and Whalers completed eight trades in ten years. The first deal happened in February 1985 when St. Louis traded away popular goaltender Mike Liut and future considerations (Jorgen Pettersson) to Hartford in exchange for center Mark Johnson and goaltender Greg Millen. Neither Johnson (traded to New Jersey by the Blues) nor Pettersson (traded to Washington by the Whale) lasted more than a season on their new teams, while Millen went on to play six seasons for the Blues before moving on to Quebec, Chicago and Detroit. Liut also played six seasons in Hartford before heading to Washington.
Six minor transactions involved journeymen defensemen Tim Bothwell, Lee Norwood and Charlie Bourgeois and forwards Mark Reeds and Blair Atcheynum. And then in July 1995 St. Louis GM Mike Keenan and Hartford GM Jim Rutherford turned Chris Pronger into a Blue and Brendan Shanahan into a Whale. It can easily be argued that each team got the better of this blockbuster deal. The hot rumor at the time was that Pronger was headed to Winnipeg for Teemu Selanne, but that trade never materialized. Instead, Selanne was traded to Anaheim, where he had two consecutive 50-goal seasons, potting 535 total goals over 19 seasons for the Ducks, Sharks and Avalanche. Would the Blues have been better off trading Shanahan to the Jets for Selanne?
St. Louis and Carolina have made only five trades over almost twenty years. Deals in 1997 and 2001 of no real significance were overshadowed in 2006 when the Blues traded veteran Doug Weight (and the rights to the famous Erkki Rajamaki) for Jesse Boulerice, Mike Zigomanis, a 2006 first-round draft pick, another pick in the fourth round (goaltenderReto Berra), a fourth-round choice in 2007 (defenseman Cade Fairchild) and the rights to somebody named Magnus Kahnberg. Boulerice and Zigomanis played a combined 14 pointless games wearing the Bluenote; however, the first-round draft choice turned into Patrik Berglund. Better yet, Weight signed with the Blues as a free agent during the summer of 2006 and played another season and a half in St. Louis before eventually becoming a Duck and an Islander. Berra was part of the 2013 trade with Calgary in which the Blues acquired Jay Bouwmeester. Fairchild recorded one assist in five games for the Note during the 2011-12 season and then bounced around the American Hockey League before joining the Kontinental Hockey League’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk. His friends complain about addressing letters to him while he is in Russia.
The Blues have never met either the Whalers/Hurricanes in postseason play.
And it is looking entirely possible that St. Louis will never meet them in postseason play since the franchise is most likely at the top of the NHL relocation list. The Canes are dead last in attendance, averaging around 11,700 people (63% capacity) per game this season and are not likely to qualify for the playoffs, with 39 points in 36 games, ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference. Last season, Carolina drew 12,200 fans per game, last in the league, worse even than the Coyotes and the Islanders.
Despite appearing to be on the NHL’s blacklist, Quebec City has the brand-new 18,259-seat Centre Videotron just begging for a franchise-transfer. It makes sense to move a poor, struggling (in both attendance and the standings) club in a basketball hotbed to hockey-crazed Quebec -- which means it will probably not happen any time soon. Of course, there are problems in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, too, moreover it is not a sure thing at this point that the Coyotes will remain in Phoenix/Glendale/Scottsdale or relocate to Seattle if that city does not get the next expansion franchise. Personally, I hope the Hurricanes do become the Nordiques or Bulldogs, the names of professional hockey teams from Quebec’s storied past.
Let’s hope the first game after the Winter Classic doesn’t end like the last game before the Classic, an embarrassing, listless loss to Nashville in which rookie goalie Juuse Saros posted a shutout having to make only 25 saves (13 after two periods). However, the boys more than made up for it Monday by playing a strong third session in a determined 4-1 win over the Blackhawks in front of 46,556 cold, damp but decidedly delighted fans.