Say It Ain't So, Johnny
By Jeb Bohn
Quick note: I have struggled for hours on how to word this and concluded that there is no right way; it would take a novel to convey the full weight of what John Forslund means to the fans of this team.
Okay, 2020, you can knock it off. Please.
I’m not going to run through the myriad of tribulations that the year has thrown at us; one has only to browse social media to see that (along with a host of undoubtedly expert commentary).
No, I’m focusing on something that—while not national news—no Carolina Hurricanes fan wants to think of.
The (seemingly imminent) departure of the best play-by-play man in the NHL, John Forslund.
To be clear—and despite the title of this blog post—I do not lay any blame at Mr. Forslund’s feet. He has dedicated decades of his life to not only the Hurricanes franchise but to the City of Raleigh and the team’s fanbase. The truth is, John Forslund is as big a part of this team and its history as any player, past or present.
When car trouble—I still curse that 93 Plymouth Sundance—kept me from attending the Hurricanes’ first regular-season game in North Carolina, I was properly introduced to Forslund’s presence. Two things were immediately evident: the man is incredibly knowledgeable about the game and he loves it.
When former goaltender Tripp Tracy was brought in as the color commentator for the 1997-98 season, the pair began to form an endearing and enduring bond, one that Caniacs cherish dearly. Whereas Tripp is the younger brother, often relishing in the silly and absurd—and that is said with love; never change, Tripp—John is the voice of the Hurricanes. He’s been with us through the bad (oh-so-much of it) as well as the good.
Now, 23 years since the Whalers moved south, we have an entire generation of Caniacs who’ve grown up listening to him call nearly every milestone in team history. More than just tradition alone, his voice and visage bring us comfort.
On the occasions he’s been summoned for (well-deserved) appearances on NBCSN, his absence is noticeable. That’s no slight towards Jason Shaya—a very talented broadcaster himself—but rather a nod towards the discomfort felt when a beloved routine is broken. Everything just feels…off.
The First Scare
We got a taste of this last year when both John and Tripp were up for new contracts. There was a collective sigh of relief when the pair inked new pacts, though eyebrows were raised when it was learned that these were only 1-year deals.
Then, when news broke that the deadline for an extension had passed, Hurricanes fans the world over went into a panic. Tripp Tracy had signed a new deal, which is great news, but his golden-throated straight man was still a free agent.
Some of that panic turned to anger, almost all of which was focused on the team’s majority owner, Tom Dundon. While I’m the first to admit that there has been significant employee turnover during Dundon’s tenure, I’m not here to vilify (or lionize) him. The man has been very successful in life and one needs only look at the turnaround the Hurricanes have experienced since he came aboard.
The thing with Dundon is that he is hyper-focused on need and value. Allow me to elaborate: when Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was let go, you could assume it was because Dundon didn’t see the need of paying a dedicated radio personality.
People cursed the owner and called him a tightwad with shallow pockets. I disagree, and I do so because I can see the reasoning behind the decision, whether I agree with it or not.
You Cannot Put a Price On John Forslund
When the Montreal Canadiens signed Carolina’s star center Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last summer, we saw Dundon’s willingness to spend. The crux of the offer sheet wasn’t yearly salary; the issue was the bonuses, structured in a way that Montreal thought would cripple Carolina’s ability to match.
If you were to assume the manner in which the owner looked at this situation, matching is easy. Aho is young, he’s incredibly talented, he’s shown year-over-year growth consistently, and his teammates and fans love him.
The salary isn’t cheap but is well below what a player of Aho’s talents could land on the open market. The term wasn’t ideal, but it guaranteed that the Finnish star would remain with the team for a half-decade.
The needs and the value made sense, so the trigger was pulled.
Perhaps Dundon doesn’t readily see the wisdom in paying the play-by-play announcer more than a certain amount. Maybe, in his eyes, there are several people who could fill the role and do so for less money. The truth is that we don’t know what the reason is, and likely never will.
The Voice of the Carolina Hurricanes
What I—and many of you—do know is that John Forslund is irreplaceable. That’s not a knock on anyone. No, it’s just the truth. In hockey, there’s always talk about “the intangibles”, the qualities that aren’t always shown on the score sheet. Well, John Forslund not only has the talent and knowledge but those same intangible qualities.
Whatever comes of this, he’s earned the right to decide what he wants and what he’s worth and, if those two things aren’t met, it’s in his best interests to go to where they are.
In reality, this is just speculation on my part. I don’t know the inner machinations of the situation (nor should I) but I realize what a huge shift this represents for fans of the Carolina Hurricanes. The prospect of not having him in the booth for Canes’ broadcasts is not something any of us want, but this isn’t up to us.
Based on his comments, he doesn’t want to leave the franchise that he’s been the voice of for 25 years. Unfortunately, with the way things have played out so far, he’s prepared himself for that eventuality.
So, Mr. Forslund, if this is the end of your time in Raleigh, I wish you nothing but the best.
That is exactly what you’ve given us for over two decades.
And, Mr. Dundon, I respect all that you’ve done for this team, sincerely. I trust in your acumen, but John Forslund brings more to this team than any number in a spreadsheet. You’ve done so much to restore the faith of the fans, don’t gut them with this. I promise it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.
The sometimes odd, always entertaining history of professional hockey in the Old North State
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