The Whalers could have stayed in Hartford.
In 1997, Connecticut governor John Rowland touted a “generous but fair” arena deal for the NHL team, saying, as reported by The New York Times, that “it would have given the team all revenue from concessions and parking for all arena events except University of Connecticut basketball games. The state would have paid for construction with bonds that would be repaid with the tax revenues and rent.”
The Whalers left anyway, but they could have stayed the Whalers after moving to Raleigh. Sure, it’s a long drive from the capital of North Carolina to the shore, but when owner Peter Karmanos Jr. picked a new name for his relocated team, he stayed nautical by calling them the Hurricanes.
Now, the Whalers are coming back… for two Hurricanes games this season. The team that changed its colors to match NC State University upon going south will dress up in green for a December home game against the Bruins and a March road trip to Boston. It’s a cheap and cynical cash grab designed to sell a bunch of shirts with the logo of a team that’s been more popular in the 21 years it hasn’t existed than it was for most of its run in Connecticut’s capital.
The NHL is allowing this, of course, because of the cash to be grabbed and the attention to be had from fans of the Kevin Smith joint “Mallrats,” a key demographic for the league, much as the only logical explanation for Jeremy Roenick continuing to appear on NHL television broadcasts is his being mentioned in “Swingers.” Hockey loves itself some mid-90s bro culture.
More than two decades after the Whalers left, there still is occasional talk of a revival, which would seemingly make it all the more dubious to put Whalers uniforms back on the ice with a faraway team, but the NHL doesn’t handle history in the sensible way that the NBA did with the Charlotte Hornets, or the way the NFL did with the Cleveland Browns. Instead, last season saw Patrik Laine set a Winnipeg Jets rookie record with 44 goals, because Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season for the 1992-93 Winnipeg Jets officially counts as an Arizona Coyotes record.
There’s no hard and fast rule across sports for how to handle team histories and intellectual property when franchises relocate, but there should be some common sense: when a team moves, if it changes its name, it relinquishes the history. It’s just good practice. Can you imagine the Oklahoma City Thunder dressing up as the Seattle SuperSonics, even for one game? But, if the Lakers bust out a Minneapolis throwback every now and then, so be it. They’re still the Lakers, just as they were all those years ago when they played in a place where that name made sense.
Meanwhile, the “Whalers” jerseys that the Hurricanes will wear include a hidden reminder of the fraud being perpetrated here. Stitched into the inside of the back collar are blue squares filled with black, a Hartfordized version of the Hurricanes’ storm flag design.
Not that it matters. Everyone involved in this slap in the face to Hartford is going to get exactly what they want, namely the money of people who just can’t get enough of one of the best logos in sports history. It may be cheap and cynical, but cheap and cynical works.