Tom Dundon softly chuckled Friday night when told he has quickly gained a reputation as the NHL’s newest hands-on owner.
“That’s OK,” he said. “I definitely want to be hands-on. I think hands-on is a fair way to say it. But what that implies might not be totally accurate, with the way people interpret it.”
After two months as majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Dundon decided he wanted a new general manager. Ron Francis, in his fourth year as executive vice president and general manager, was given a new title and assignment this week: president of hockey operations.
Why make the move now, in March?
“I think it was just whenever he and I came to the conclusion,” Dundon said in an interview. “You get to know each other, you work together for a while. I think we both sort of figured it out over time. I don’t think there’s anything special about the timing. It was just when he and I came to the conclusion about our stylistic differences that as you work together you get to understand.”
Dundon said it wasn’t hockey disagreements between the two that forced the issue. No haggling at the NHL trade deadline late last month or anything like that.
“I don’t think we disagreed about how to improve the team,” Dundon said. “I think it’s more stylistic about how we would go about getting to a similar place. It’s much more the way we would do it, probably not what we would do.
“I think my style maybe is more to try things and figure them out versus he’s probably better at planning his next move. It’s not about whether or not we agree on most things. I think it’s just how we get there, how we do things.”
Francis, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has not publicly commented on Dundon’s decision or his new job, or whether he wants to stay in the organization.
“That’s my expectation. I hope so,” Dundon said. “I think Ron’s very thoughtful and very intelligent. When you share an idea with Ron or you have an idea, there’s real depth and quality to his opinion. Ron has a lot of great, positive traits.”
Dundon said he did not make the switch with someone already in mind as the next GM. Among the names mentioned in NHL speculation is such assistant general managers as Julien Brisebois of Tampa Bay and Paul Fenton of Nashville, and Dundon likely will not take long in making a decision. The new GM will report directly to Dundon.
“I feel confident we can bring someone in who can work with us well,” he said. “I’d like for it to be a good fit within the organization. …You definitely want somebody who’s comfortable and fits with the group and then hopefully can add to it.”
The Canes have sputtered on the ice since Dundon, a Dallas billionaire, became majority owner on Jan. 11, buying 61 percent of the team from Peter Karmanos Jr. Carolina was 20-15-8 after a 3-1 road win over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 11 but have since gone 10-12-3.
The Canes (30-27-11), who made no significant trade-deadline moves while other contenders added players, were five points out of a wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference before Saturday’s games and two points behind the surging Florida Panthers. Barring a strong push in the last 14 games the Canes will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for a ninth straight season.
Dundon remains supportive of Canes coach Bill Peters and complimentary of the job Peters has done in his fourth season as an NHL head coach.
“I think he’s prepared and he’s hard-working and he’s got a great attitude,” Dundon said. “Before the game starts you want to know you’re prepared and I believe we’re prepared. We haven’t gotten the results we want but I don’t think it’s because we’re not prepared.”
As for the look of the team next season, Dundon does not believe a major overhaul is needed. It’s not as if the plan is to jettison five or six players, turn it into a major makeover.
“I like the team,” he said. “I think we’re improving. I think we want a culture where everybody earns their spot every day. As long as we’re doing that, and we clearly have good players, then it’s how do we make those players maximize their potential? How does the team maximize its potential?
“But I don’t think it’s reasonable or rational to think about it in terms of ‘We need to make X number of changes.’ I think it’s more about how we go about it every day with the structure and process to keep getting better. Ideally you get the most out of the players you’ve got. If for any reason any of those players aren’t performing to their potential you try to work with them.”
The Hurricanes were in Chicago on Wednesday when the announcement was made on Francis, beating the Blackhawks 3-2 Thursday. Peters, after the Canes’ practice Saturday, said he was surprised “a little bit” by the GM change, adding, “Obviously, Tom bought the team here recently and he’s going to do what he thinks is right.”
By being a hands-on owner?
“I definitely will be hands-on in the sense that I want to understand how we do things and make sure everybody has the resources they need to give us the best chance to win,” Dundon said. “I think I’ve got the experience to understand there’s a way to get the most out of people and that would be my goal.
“I have no intention of overriding an organizational decision. I don’t think that’s how you build a business. Everybody gets to have their opinion. I feel pretty comfortable that the way we’re going to structure the organization will give us a real good chance to succeed.”