Fans of the Carolina Hurricanes have been waiting, patiently, for an end to the current five-year playoff drought, tied for the third-longest in the NHL behind three dysfunctional Western Conference Canadian teams. Now they’ll have to wait another six months just to witness another game.

With the completion of the regular season over the weekend, the Hurricanes wrapped up what was perhaps their most disappointing year since relocation. It didn’t feature a win-and-in failure scenario like in 2007-08 or 2010-11, and there was no post-playoff letdown, like in 2002-03 or 2006-07 or 2009-10. They simply weren’t good enough.

Combine them all together, and you have a team that’s been treading water at best, and driving away fans in droves at worst.

Since winning the Stanley Cup, the Hurricanes have enjoyed enormous success off the ice. Raleigh has grown exponentially as a market to rival that of any “non-traditional” locale. From tailgating before a game on a beautiful spring day to boasting an incredible atmosphere that even the players are appreciative of, the ‘Canes have carved their niche in Triangle sports.

But there is a limit to the growth, and to the fans’ patience.

Caniacs packed the PNC Arena just twice in 2013-14, and the home finale drew just a shade over 15,500 fans. The ones that did show up were treated to a display of apathy that was reflected in the stands. Toward the end of their 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, voices from sections away could be heard distinctly.

Players flock to Carolina due to the relaxed nature of the area, and little pressure from the media. It’s undeniably a great place to live, and many return after their playing days are over. But smaller markets are prone to problems, and a lack of on-ice success can be a significant blow to the progress.

With direction, fans can understand the various stages of building a team — rebuilding, re-tooling, and competition. It’s hard to say exactly where Carolina falls at the moment. They are no closer to returning to the playoffs than they were when they selected Jeff Skinner seventh overall in 2010, and next year will mark his fifth in the NHL. Barring any changes in Tuesday’s lottery, they will again pick seventh in this summer’s draft.

While it’s not time to panic, fans should be aware that sometimes big change is necessary in order to move forward, and smaller markets are no exception; Nashville just opted to move on from Barry Trotz, head coach of the Predators since their inception in 1998. Carolina let go of their own longest-tenured coach, Paul Maurice, years ago. Twice.

Jim Rutherford, on the other hand, has been the general manager for 20 years, and it’s all but certain that 2013-14 was his last. It’s tough to say if a new voice making the decisions will push the ‘Canes over their playoff hump, but it’s clear that Rutherford might not be the only casualty this offseason.

Kirk Muller may not escape unscathed, and the on-ice product could use another shuffling of the deck chairs. Rutherford moved longtime Hurricanes Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu during the season, but others may soon follow.

There’s still a lot to be decided this offseason, and it’ll be one of the most intriguing ones since the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997. Fans will continue to have patience, if the organization can meet them halfway, with a clear plan in place.

The Hurricanes don’t have to be one of the best teams in the league in 2014-15 to appease the masses. They just have to be better.

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7

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