Across the desk from the players in exit interviews, there was one man: Tom Dundon.
At the podium to wrap up the Carolina Hurricanes' season on Monday, there was one man: Tom Dundon.
No coach. No general manager. No team president. Just the owner.
What a wild, weird, wacky operation this is going to be. Hang on tight. It may be a tremendous success or a colossal failure, but it's unlikely to be somewhere in the mediocre middle, which is where the Hurricanes have resided the past nine years.
Eight years of happy horsebleep about how close the team was to contending and how good the core is went out the window Monday, all those empty consolations that served only to raise false hopes that success was just around the corner. The phrase “change of scenery” came up a lot Monday.
“I don't think hockey is about innovation,” Dundon said. “It's much more about putting all those pieces together and doing everything really, really well. I think we can do a better job of identifying players and figuring out where under- and overvalued assets exist. I think we're doing a pretty good job of it. We just need to do better.”
Dundon made it clear there's only one untouchable on this team, and that's Sebastian Aho. As for the rest? His message to them was simple: “It's our job to find better players than you, and it's your job to make it hard.”
By extension, if you look at coaches and general managers as replaceable parts as well and don't get caught up in cults of personality about them, there's no worrying about who actually holds those jobs.
If Bill Peters wants to leave? OK. If he decides to stay? Fine. Someone has to make trade calls and haggle over contracts. Might as well be Don Waddell, since he won't be making any decisions on his own. If someone significantly more insightful does come along, he'll get the job instead.
It has never been clearer how Dundon looks at things differently than traditional hockey people, and that's going to be jarring for a while, just as the lack of any clarification on Peters' future was Monday. It might be jarring forever.
So while hardboiled hockey men snicker in their Crown Royal from Moose Jaw to Montreal at the idea of an owner making hockey decisions or conducting exit meetings, certain deep in their hearts things have been set up a certain way across North America for decades for a reason, they might be right. This isn't normal, at least by hockey standards.
But maybe they're wrong, in which case a lot of highly paid executives will be out of a job when their bosses decide it doesn't take a million-dollar general manager to build a contender.
Dundon's entire career and fortune have been built on proving he can find better ways to do things. We are the latest laboratory. After watching this franchise pretend to make progress for almost a decade while ignoring the actual lack thereof, what's the harm in letting him find out?
These past nine years have been hard on everyone associated with this team. Attendance has dwindled, interest has waned. The hardest part has been the stagnation since that narrow miss in 2011, when the Hurricanes lost at home in the final game of the season with a chance to follow that transcendent All-Star Game with a playoff run. Each year since has seen only marginal progress forward; this season, the Hurricanes even regressed. Each time the Hurricanes don't make the playoffs, memories of what that's like fade further, a little bit more disconnection with what this franchise once was.
“I'm very partial to this team and this city and this area,” Justin Williams said Monday, before his exit interview with Dundon. “I've seen the good times. It's like seeing an old friend fall on hard times. I want to help out and be there when it's good again.”
This market has deserved better for a long time. Dundon may or may not have a better way of doing things, but it's going to be a wild ride watching him try to figure it out.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock