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Under new owner, Hurricanes embrace Hartford Whaler history

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes has a soft spot for his team’s old identity – the Hartford Whalers.

In the month since Tom Dundon assumed control of the Hurricanes, they’ve brought back the old ”Brass Bonanza” fight song, stocked the shelves in the team store with that beloved whale-tail logo and have discussed bringing back the Whalers, too – if only for a future turn-back-the-clock night.

Under his leadership, the Hurricanes have done a 180-degree turn in the way they view, market and appreciate their past.

”It’s ours, right? I mean, it’s who we were. It’s part of the history,” Dundon said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”To me, it makes a lot of sense. … This was too easy. ‘How could I not?’ was probably the better question.”

In the month since Dundon bought a majority share of the team from longtime owner Peter Karmanos Jr., the 46-year-old Dallas businessman has made several changes – most visibly, the embracing of who the Hurricanes were before they became the Hurricanes.

That’s a drastic shift from their approach under Karmanos. He purchased the Whalers in 1994 and moved the franchise to North Carolina three years later, never looking back after seven consecutive losing seasons in Connecticut and complaints about attendance at what was then known as the Hartford Civic Center.

That’s not the case anymore.

The Hurricanes are selling Whalers T-shirts and jerseys – with that distinctive ”H” formed in the empty space between a ”W” and a whale tail – in their team store. They occasionally play ”Brass Bonanza” during stops in play. And Dundon says he’s working with the league on a plan to ”wear the uniform and sort of make it part of what we do” as part of a nostalgia night.

”I think it’s really good-looking stuff, so for me it was like, this is great gear, and this is where we’ve come from, and you know, I think it’s fun,” Dundon said. ”And so for me, this is supposed to be fun, it’s entertainment, and we’re supposed to care about the team, and you see something like that that looks good and creates something to talk about and something to enjoy.”

Not surprisingly, the Whalers’ identity has long had a strong sentimental attraction throughout the hockey world – especially in their former home.

The state of Connecticut is selling Whalers license plates for $60 to help fund new facilities at a children’s hospital. And just last week, Gov. Dan Malloy issued an open letter to Dundon to invite the Hurricanes back to the Hartford area for an outdoor game at Rentschler Field, the UConn football team’s home field, or to play a regular-season game at their former home rink.

Wrote Malloy: ”In short, the Whalers’ spirit is alive and well in Hartford.”

In North Carolina, though, Dundon’s arrival and subsequent appreciation for the team’s green-and-blue past has brought some buzz back to a team that is making a push for just its second playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. He also has quashed those pesky, persistent relocation rumors that have plagued the franchise for years.

Dundon says his fans-first ownership style was influenced by a pair of Dallas-based team owners – Mark Cuban of the NBA’s Mavericks, and Jerry Jones of the NFL’s Cowboys. He ”had a front-row seat to everything they did” as the Mavericks transformed from cellar-dweller to NBA champion.

”I saw what they did with that brand over 10 years, and I don’t think anyone would have believed that the Mavericks could ever be what they became,” Dundon said. ”And with the Cowboys … Jerry has a constant focus on engaging fans and bringing attention to that brand. He thinks, probably, way bigger than I do and takes bigger risks. He’s just a genius at how he operates that team. So I’ve watched these things. I don’t think I’m going to do anything exactly like anyone else, but I’d like to think I can learn from seeing it.”

”We want to make sure that the team’s interesting, and we’re interesting, and right now the story is, the team’s going to make the playoffs and there’s an ownership change,” Dundon said. ”Hopefully in the future, it’s about all the winning we’re doing.”

Video: Will Chris Pronger be elected into the to HHOF?

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The NHL on NBC crew takes a look at Chris Pronger’s Hall of Fame prospects now that he has officially become eligible.

Pronger, 40, appeared in 1167 games over 18 seasons with the Whalers, Blues, Oilers, Ducks and Flyers. He scored 157 goals and 698 points to go along with 1590 penalty minutes.

He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP in 2000.

Pronger won Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010. He captured his lone Stanley Cup in 2007 while with Anaheim.

The Dryden, Ontario native was the first-round selection (2nd overall) of the Hartford Whalers in 1993.

Get to know a draft pick — William Nylander

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Leading up to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, we’ll be profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Sunday in the first round. Nothing too in-depth. Just enough so you know who they are and what they’re about.

William Nylander

Height: 5’ 11” Weight: 181  Shoots: Right

Team: MODO

Country: Sweden

NHL Central Scouting Ranking: No. 2 European skater

What kind of player is he?

If there’s a word to describe Nylander it’s “skilled.”

He jumped around a bit last season and ultimately landed in Sweden’s top league for 22 games with MODO scoring one goal with six assists. Considering he was 17 years old and playing against men, those numbers aren’t bad. For a better part of the year he was in Sweden’s second league and had 19 goals and 33 points in 43 games still against players much older than him.

Nylander grabbed the attention of scouts with his play at the World Under-18 Junior Championships where he had six goals and 16 points in seven games.

Long story short, he’s prepared to be a pro. To help everyone feel old, he’s the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander. If he can have or exceed the kind of career his old man did (679 points in 920 games) he’ll have a long career in the NHL. Considering his dad was a third-round pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1991, the bar is set a bit higher for William.

Quotable:

TSN’s Craig Button, a former GM of the Calgary Flames and scouting expert, said Nylander has tremendous ability as Oilers Nation shared.

“Nylander boasts high-end skills highlighted by excellent puck control. His confidence with the puck is outstanding and he has as much patience with it as any player in the draft.”

Chief Scout of NACScouting, Mark Seidel, has this to say about Nylander:

“Expectations coming into the season were unrealistic. He tried to do too much early and showed frustration. He makes offensive plays his teammates don’t even expect and distributes the puck very well. He loves to challenge with speed. He was the best offensive player at the recent Under 18’s. Size is still a concern, but will create offense wherever he plays.”

For more 2014 NHL Draft previews, click here.

Return of the Whalers? Howard Baldwin thinks he can make it happen (again)

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All right so we got the Winnipeg Jets to come back in some way, now how about the Hartford Whalers? If it were up to former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin he’d put his new five-year plan into action to make it work.

Baldwin showed off his plan to business leaders in Hartford to help him and the city of Hartford to help realize their (or his) dreams or bringing the NHL back to town. Before you get too excited, as Rick Green of the Hartford Courant notes, the plan involves a lot of upheaval in the city and more importantly, a lot of public money to make it happen. Highlights of his plan include:

  • $105 million in public funds to renovate the XL Center
  • Support from businesses in Hartford to get things rolling
  • Support from the Governor of Connecticut to move ahead

Sounds like a stacked deck against Baldwin’s plans and it’s probably for good reason. While we’re all extremely nostalgic about the Whalers now, getting full support to a team these days in a new economy to get 18,000 fans a night in a small New England town might prove difficult. Never mind that they’d still need a team to want to move there.

While Baldwin has been busting his tail to make Hartford look like the go-to place for hockey, it’s not as if this is the same situation as Winnipeg. Yes, the Connecticut Whale are there now and keeping the dream alive, but averaging just over 4,700 a game won’t instill confidence that things could work. Compare that to the Manitoba Moose who drew over 8,000 a game last year before getting the Jets this season.

We’d love to see the Whalers reborn, we’re shameless for 80s-90s nostalgia here, this plan just doesn’t make it feel very likely given that you’re asking the people to give up so much money to make it happen.

Best and worst sweaters of all-time: Carolina Hurricanes

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When you talk about the Carolina Hurricanes and their history of sweaters, there’s really not a whole lot of change they’ve done since they’ve been in North Carolina. Don’t think we’re going to ignore the whale in the room when it comes to their departure from Hartford, however.

Best: The original road red sweaters the Hurricanes busted out with is the one I identify best with when it comes to what they’ve had over time. It was a simple design and while the logo leaves a lot to be desired, the storm flags design that goes around the bottom of the sweater with the simple stripes make it stand out well. The piping that came in later on after the lockout and the addition of the RBK Edge designs dumbed the whole thing down. The Hurricanes got it right the first time around without the needless piping.

Worst: When the Hurricanes introduced a third sweater that was going to take advantage of their secondary logo, I was excited to see what they would pull off. After all, their secondary logo is ingenious using a hockey stick as a flag pole with the, ahem, tropical storm warning flag atop it being blown by the wind. Instead, they went full on with the black color scheme dulling everything out, including the storm flag stripes at the bottom. They had a real chance to do something cool and came up with something that was hip for the moment. For shame.

Long Live the Whalers: Give me your tired, your weary, your Pucky the Whale (although not like this). Give me your green and blue, your navy blue and gray, and your Brass Bonanza. Give me the Hartford Whalers sweaters in every iteration they’ve ever donned in their history. The Hurricanes bolted Hartford and left behind a legacy of looks that tug at every hockey fan’s heartstrings. If you can’t appreciate the looks the Whalers brought to the ice, I don’t want to even know who you are.

“Iconic” doesn’t even begin to describe what the Whalers are and were to hockey fans… If only as many people loved the Whalers then as they do now perhaps Peter Karmanos wouldn’t have run screaming for North Carolina.

Assessment: Listen, nothing is ever going to live up to the bar that the Whalers set beforehand and the Hurricanes have been fighting that retroactive Whalers fandom since they moved to North Carolina so that’s not fair. All things considered, the Hurricanes have an OK look right now. The logo is tough to love but they have a great color scheme and the sweaters are nicely designed enough. Hey, if it’s good enough for the “Justin Bieber of hockey” it’s good enough for me. It’ll just never be as nice as something that once originated out of Hartford.