As we embark on the 2013-14 NHL season, we do so in a new and radically changed environment. NHL realignment has caused a sea change around the league and, for the Florida Panthers, the move from the now defunct Southeast Division to the eight team Atlantic Division means the loss of old rivalries and the addition of new ones. As we get closer to the season we will look at the Panthers’ new divisional foes in great detail but for now I want to pause for a moment of reflection and talk about the rivalries that will be no more.
Throughout it’s history, the Southeast Division has, for the most part, been a geographic outsider. People scoff at the thought of hockey being played in the Southern US especially in places like Florida and North Carolina. Despite the rest of the countries indifference, hockey fans in the Southeast have embraced their intra-divisional rivalries. The rivalry between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes has been hurt by the fact that the two teams have rarely been good at the same time but nonetheless, their 14 years as Southeast Division-mates and their geographic proximity have been enough to foster a relationship that, while lacking in serious vitriol, has been fun to watch unfold.
The Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers did not start out as division foes, in fact when the Panthers came into the league in 1993 the Hurricanes were still the Hartford Whalers. Prior to the 1997-98 season, the Hartford Whalers decamped for North Carolina and rebranded themselves as the Hurricanes. During their inaugural season, the Hurricanes remained in the Northeast Division and it was not until the formation of the Southeast Division in ’98 that the two teams became rivals; the ‘Canes moving from the NE Division and the Panthers moving from the Atlantic Division.
As I mentioned earlier, the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes have never really both been good at the same time (since SE Division play began, the two teams have never both qualified for the playoffs in the same season). This has hampered their rivalry to an extent as over the years there has been a dearth of regular season match ups with playoff implications. The ‘Canes have had trouble sustaining longterm success but when they have been good they have seen experienced some astounding success. In fourteen years of Southeast Division play, the Hurricanes have qualified for the playoffs five times. Out of those five playoff appearances they have three Eastern Conference finals appearances (2002, 2006, 2009), two Stanley Cup appearances (2002, 2006) and one Stanley Cup victory (2006). The Hurricanes have followed up their three deep playoff runs by missing the postseason for at least the next two years, with their most recent drought spanning four seasons from 2009-10 to 2012-13.
The Hurricanes have had the upper hand in head-to-head match-ups compiling a record of 44 wins, 30 losses and 9 ties against the Panthers since the 1998-99 season when Southeast Division play began. Most of that damage came during the divisions’ first decade (98-99 to 08-09) with the Hurricanes winning 34 times to go along with only 18 losses and 9 ties. More recently the Panthers have had a slight upper hand going 12-10 against Carolina since the start of the 2009 season which was also, not surprisingly, the start of the Hurricanes’ current playoff drought.
The Hurricanes will move to the Metropolitan Division next season and the Panthers will return to the Atlantic Division. It is a bit counterintuitive that the two teams are no longer in the same division as the Panthers will consistently be flying over North Carolina on their long flights to face their new division opponents up in Canada and the Northeast US. One thing the Panthers can celebrate is, next year they will be seeing a lot less of Carolina captain Eric Staal who in 57 career games against Florida has scored 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists).
The Panthers and Hurricanes will face each other three times during the upcoming 2013-14 season. With the NHL’s history of fiddling about with their divisions, I would not be surprised if the two teams meet again as division rivals further on down the road. For now, we at The Rat Trick bid a fond farewell to the Carolina Hurricanes.