Another season has come and gone for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and for the coaches, players, fans, and employees of this hockey club the results again were nowhere close to what anyone had hoped.
The Hurricanes closed out the season with just 20 victories in 72 games. I will give the club some credit because at the Christmas break when the Hurricanes had just 6 or 7 wins, reaching 20 seemed like a shot in the dark at best, but sweeping changes at the trade deadline made the Hurricanes more competitive. That's a good thing. Hopefully that's a positive trend that'll continue into next season.
The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs for the last six seasons and for a club that's been struggling financially it's not what anyone want to hear. Playoffs mean extra revenue, un-budgeted money as teams only budget for operations of the 72 game regular season. Any playoff money is a bonus. Those are funds the Hurricanes haven't seen since the 2008-09 season. It's been a long drought. Just how bad are the team's finances? I'm sure that question will be asked at the pubic information session slated for March 30th at the ENMAX Centre, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know the money situation with this community-owned team is not good. It hasn't been for the last number of seasons and anyone who says things are just fine, as we've heard in the past is doing nothing more than blowing smoke. The only way the Hurricanes are going to turn around financially is to change the product on the ice. You can put as much entertainment in the building you want during games, but it's all about wins and losses. That is what drives the revenue.
There are plenty of questions that will be asked and people want answers. Will this team eventually be sold? Do the shareholders want that? Will this coaching staff and hockey management staff return? Can the Canes sign last year's top pick Jordy Bellerive? What are the finances? And the list goes on. As I've said many times I want this club to succeed both on and off the ice like every other fan. I care. I always have. I keep my ears close to the ground when it comes to the Canes. Quite frankly I can't wait till a March blog post when we can talk about the Hurricanes first opponent in the playoffs. Honestly, I think that's still a couple of seasons away. There is certainly a foundation now in my opinion starting in goal with Skinner and Sittler and some young talent which has started to really emerge in the last half of the season. Big positives moving forward. Now it's a case of building on those positives, signing the players who've been drafted, and building a strong group for seasons to come.
There's no doubt with this season now over the talk about selling to a private entity will ramp up again. When WHL Commissioner Ron Robison and former President Brian McNaughton addressed Lethbridge City Council last spring the indication many people got was the Western Hockey League's rope was getting shorter and shorter when it comes to the Hurricanes. Even Robison told me late in 2014 (reported here on the blog) he was hoping the issue of selling the club would be dealt with sooner than the Annual General Meeting this coming fall. That of course remains to be seen, but if the Commissioner wasn't concerned about the situation in Lethbridge I don't think he would've said that at all.
It's not all doom and gloom, don't get me wrong. As mentioned the play of some players this season poses well for next season. Skinner, Watson, Wong, Burke, Folk, and Estephan are just a few examples of some of the positives going forward in 2015-16. Then there's the WHL Bantam Draft in May, which the Hurricanes could have the first overall pick. We will find that out Wednesday (Mar. 25) when the WHL holds the annual Draft Lottery. It'll be a top two pick for sure. Then there is the CHL Import Draft in a few months. That's a draft, in my opinion the Hurricanes have messed up the last few years. The club had the third overall selection in last year's Import Draft and Nikita Milehkin didn't even last until Christmas time before he was sent home to Russia. These are critical picks. This year the Hurricanes will have the 5th overall selection in that draft. They will also have the 65th overall pick if they choose to use it. Players who can change an organization. The Hurricanes need to get the Import Draft right this time around.
So what does the future hold you ask? Well I wish I had the answer. I don't know if the Hurricanes have the answer either. I would think a lot of questions will be put forward at the Public Information Session and State of the Organization meeting March 30 at 7:00 pm. A lot of people have asked if private ownership is the answer. Can a private owner work? Who knows. What I do know though is the financial bleeding needs to stop and the club has to be more competitive. A total of 132 wins in the last six seasons over 432 games just isn't going to make the cut.