By: Bruce Bullington, GreensboroSports.com staff writer
Area hockey fans have been hit with some disappointments the last couple of weeks. It was recently revealed in the News & Record that the Greensboro Coliseum would be without hockey once again this season. Itâ€™s unclear as top what exactly happened or who is to blame. Word was that things were looking good with the potential ownership group and that all that was needed was to acquire an available franchise. The ECHL said it received no indication that Greensboro would ice a team this season, so they will begin the business of making a league schedule without the Gate City on it.
Of course, our defending Stanley Cup champions, the Carolina Hurricanes, faltered down the stretch and missed the opportunity to defend their title. While players on the team repeatedly resisted the urge to make excuses, one cannot ignore that injuries and a Stanley Cup hangover took their toll and the team was never able to find the groove that won North Carolinaâ€™s first major league sports title in the summer of 2006.
While the Stanley Cup playoffs go on without them, they have begun the business of reloading for a return to the postseason. The team entered the offseason with two major part of the team who could file for free-agency on July 1st, forwards Ray Whitney and Scott Walker.
Whitney (pictured), who turns 35 on May 8th, was the Hurricanes leading scorer with a career high 83 points (32G, 51A). His new contract with the team will earn him $3.55 million over the next three seasons.
General Manager Jim Rutherford was resigned as well, inking a new five-year contract (terms undisclosed). The only GM in team history, Rutherford oversaw the teamâ€™s move from Hartford, CT to Greensboro and then to Raleigh. The Hurricanes have made the playoffs four times, won three Southeast Division titles, two Eastern Conference championships as well as the 2006 Stanley Cup during his tenure.
All the news hasnâ€™t been rosy out of Raleigh, though. Despite setting a single-season attendance record, the Hurricanes report that they lost $4 million this past season. This shouldnâ€™t be too much of a surprise, given that most NHL teams are built to make money in the playoffs. The Hurricanes had a $40 million dollar payroll this past season, up from $30 million in their Stanley Cup year. Playoff games are a major cash-cow for teams, who donâ€™t have to pay the players during the playoffs.
Despite the loss in revenues, the Hurricanes plan to increase their payroll to $44 million in order to keep key players like Walker and possibly to shore up the defense. Veteran blueliners Bret Hedican (pictured) and Glen Wesley are rumored to be nearing retirement, with Hedican having missed 32 games last year due to injury.
The signing of Whitney raises some concerns of the team taking on too many aging players at the tail end of the careers. Whitney will be under contract through the 2009-2010 season. Rob Brindâ€™Amour signed a five year extension at the end of last season that should allow him to retire a Hurricane. Also under contract through 09-10 are defensemen Nic Wallin and Frank Kaberle and forward Justin Williams.