Let's get this one out of the way early. While the Hurricanes will never be completely forgiven for breaking the heart of Hartford, they deserve credit for embracing their history instead of wiping it away. Many Whalers personnel, from the broadcast team to the equipment managers, are still with the Canes. The Hurricanes have honored Ron Francis and Glen Wesley with emotional number-retirement ceremonies, and the goal horn from the Hartford Civic Center is still in use at Canes games. As far as possible, they've given longtime Whalers fans an opportunity to remain connected with "their" team.
No. Just... no.
9) Paul Maurice
You have to respect this guy, considering how much crap he took in Toronto. Hard as it is to believe, Maurice is now the 6th most experienced active coach in the NHL. Along the way he has always been civil and low-key, in spite of virtually-nonstop speculation about his job security.
8) Ray Whitney
When "Jonesy" is considered a book-title-worthy nickname, you know the NHL is getting short on high-quality handles. So when you come across a guy who goes by "The Wizard", it's worth keeping an eye on him. What you find with Whitney is perhaps the league's most underrated clutch scorer. Since the lockout, he has 15 points in 15 games against Boston.
If McFarlane ever makes a Brind'Amour figure...
7) Rod Brind'Amour
Rod the Bod is a piece of the NHL circa 1950, time-warped to the present. Big, mean, and ugly as sin, he's exactly the guy you want in your foxhole. He's probably the best faceoff guy in the league, has captained a Cup team and is frequently cited as the hardest-working player on ice.
6) Cam Ward
Everything that Carey Price was supposed to be, Cam Ward has already become. It takes a huge amount of strength and character to win the Conn Smythe as a rookie goalie, but even more to be an NHL star without an ego problem. Ward is intense, yet unflappable in big games. The last time he played, he proved more stable in a 7th game than Martin Brodeur.
5) Ronnie Franchise
He's only the classiest player you'll ever live to see. And also a two-time Cup winner, Hall of Famer and the 4th highest scorer in league history... 4th! He's now behind the bench in Carolina, and the heir apparent to the head coaching position. That's the equivalent of Ray Bourque being groomed to take over the Bruins bench.
That's more like it!
4) The RBC Center
Gameday in Raleigh is unique. They tailgate college-football style at the arena. They play Ric Flair clips on the Jumbotron. Their mascot is a pig. And it's loud as hell in the arena. Given some time to become more sophisticated about the sport, the Hurricanes fanbase will become the Sun Belt equivalent to Calgary's Sea of Red.
People who like hockey usually like Eric Staal. He's big, fast, skilled, and aggressive. He makes big plays in big games, including a last-minute Game 7 winner against Brodeur this season. He's shown that he can lead a Cup run. He was the NHL '08 cover star, and the All-Star Game MVP. Oh, and he's 24. Twenty-four.
Carolina is not a team of superstars. They win because they outwork and outhustle their opponents. Guys like Staal and Whitney and Brind'Amour have practically zero mainstream media presence, yet they come up huge again and again when it counts. Though they don't roll 4 lines like Detroit and Boston, the Canes expect every player to contribute to the final outcome -- witness Paul Maurice taking a leap of faith and putting grinder Chad LaRose on the first line late in their series against New Jersey. That's what it means to be a hockey team.
1) They're clutch.
For some reason, this team is charmed when it comes to the playoffs. In 2001 they bounced Montreal and Toronto in successive playoff rounds to make the Finals. In 2006 they won two consecutive 7-game series to take the Cup. This month they upset the Devils and are now considered a dark horse to take out the Bruins. They are money from the goal crease outward. And let's be honest -- once all the NASCAR jokes are set aside, this team generates some serious envy from "traditional" fanbases with their tendency to win through sheer force of will.