The Carolina Hurricanes can trace their history back to the World Hockey Association (WHA) and Hartford, Connecticut. The team was founded in 1971 by Howard Baldwin, Godfrey Wood, William Barned and John Coburn as the New England Whalers of the WHA. The team's name was partly derived from the abbreviation for the league and they made their debut in 1972 playing out of Boston. They won the WHA's Avco Wold Trophy in their inaugural season. The Whalers moved into the new Hartford Civic center in 1975. In 1977 they featured three Howes in their lineup; Gordie along with his soms Mark and Marty. The team joined the NHL in 1979 and officially changed its name to the Hartford Whalers.
Their first NHL season was also Gordie Howe's 32nd in the NHL and he set a record by scoring his 800th regular season goal. The Whalers had an aweful road record, but finished fourth in the Norris Division and made the playoffs. In that first round they faced off against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Montreal Canadiens and the Habs swept the Whalers. Howe retired that year and his number "9" was retired by the Whalers the following season. In that year's NHL amateur draft Larry Pleau drafted the eighteen year old Ron Francis fourth overall. Pleau would end up taking over behind the bench when Don Blackburn was fired and Francis would make an impact in his rookie season. The Whalers had a tough time getting back into the playoffs for the next five years. The mid-1980s saw the Whalers continue to add pieces to a core consisting of Ron Francis. Mike Liut came over in a trade providing much needed stability in net and rookie Kevin Dineen added toughness and some much needed scoring. Hartford would go on to win its first ever playoff series, defeating the Quebec Nordiques in three straight but lost in the following round to the Montreal Canadiens in a seven game thriller. The next year saw the Whalers capture the Adams division championship but were bounced out of the playoffs by Quebec. The story eerily played out the same way until 1991-92, with the Whalers unable to get past the division semis.
And that began a long drought where the Whalers would find themselves out of the playoffs for the next few years. In the summer of 1994 the team was sold to Peter Karmanos of Compuware, Thomas Thewes and Jim Rutherford for $47.5 million. Rutherford became general manager of the franchise and Paul Holmgren was named as coach. The Whalers continued to wheel and deal, seeing Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, Keith Primeau, and Paul Coffey involved in a set of trades. But at the end the Whalers only had Primeau to show for the deals. After finishing the 1996-97 season out of the playoffs and with support for the team dwindling in Hartford, Whaler owner Peter Karmanos moved his team to Carolina.
Now re-named the Carolina Hurricanes, the team struggled through their first season in the land of NASCAR and college basketball. The Hurricanes tried to shake things up on the ice trading Sean Burke and Geoff Sanderson, while trying to lure Sergei Federov from Detroit. The Hurricanes would finish out of the playoffs again in 1997-98 and would have to wait till the 1999 postseason to be playing for Lord Stanley's cup. This was the first time they were in the playoffs since their days in Hartford. The excitement was short lived as the Paul Maurice coached team bowed out in the first round to the Boston Bruins. After missing the playoffs in 2000, the Canes were back for more in 2001, losing to New Jersey in the first round. With the makings of a solid team behind Ron Francis, Jeff O'Neil and the goaltending of Arturs Irbe, the Carolina Hurricanes would make their longest postseaon run in the spring of 2002. In the first round they would defeat New Jersey in six and follow that up by beating Montreal in the same number of games. The Conference final saw them face off against a strong Toronto Maple Leafs team, led by Curtis Joseph, Mats Sundin and ex-Cane Gary Roberts. The Hurricanes were not to be intimidated and defeated the Maple Leafs in yet another six game series. That victory brought them to the first ever Stanley Cup final berth for the francshise. They met the Detroit Red Wings in the finals and surprised them by winning the first game in overtime. But the Wings were quick to put to rest Carolina's "Cinderella run" beating the Hurricanes in the next four games to take the Cup and the series in five. A year after their most successful playoff run, the Carolina Hurricanes hit rock bottom finishing dead last in the 2002-03 NHL regular season standings.
Carolina Hurricanes Overview:
Founded: 1972 in the World Hockey Association, joined NHL in 1979
Formerly known as: New England Whalers (1972-1979), Hartford Whalers (1979-1997)
Arena: RBC Center
Stanley Cup wins: 0