It's fair to say the first few months of Tom Dundon's tenure as majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes haven't gone swimmingly. The night of the press conference announcing his ownership, the team blew a one-goal lead with four minutes to play and lost in regulation, an unfortunate harbinger of the early days of the long-awaited change in owners.
Throw in the stuttering and abortive search for a new general manager after the firing of Ron Francis last month and the team's general slide into further irrelevance, and there's not a lot Dundon can hang his baseball hat on, so far
With the Hurricanes' elimination from the playoffs Saturday with three games to play, the offseason can begin in earnest, and with that Dundon's plans for overhauling the franchise. There's only so much any owner can do in midseason; the window for real change opens now
Start with the general manager search, which was folly to do during the season. Not only was it going to be difficult to convince anyone to leave their current team in the midst of a playoff run, the Hurricanes were offering half of the market rate, which runs about $1 million per season, in hopes that someone would be intrigued enough by the challenge. That didn't happen, nor did anyone blow Dundon's socks off to the point where he was willing to up his offer to seven figures.
Old-school hockey people cringed at Dundon's insistence on running the hockey side of things like a CEO and laughed at the long parade of assistant GMs who talked with him before very publicly taking themselves out of the running, and they weren't wrong – but by the same token, doing things the traditional way under Francis, and Jim Rutherford before him, hasn't exactly turned the Hurricanes into a dynasty.
That left Dundon looking at the Hurricanes' current interim front office – team president and former Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell, assistant GM Ricky Olczyk, Charlotte Checkers coach Mike Vellucci and the demoted Francis – and wondering if he would be better off with a GM-by-committee approach than bringing in someone new, as curious and decidedly unpopular as that would be with fans.
“Through this process, I'm learning a lot,” Dundon said. “What I didn't want to do is make a decision for the direction of the franchise without having more information. I think I came to the conclusion through the process that we have the people that can do it if we manage them properly and get the most out of them. ...
“I don't think you're looking for one person who saves you. You're trying to get the most out of all your resources and get everybody to feel a part of it and go through the right structure and process to come to conclusions and decisions. I think I'm qualified to put in those processes in place, and I think we have a lot of good people who know hockey when it comes to evaluating talent.”
That may be the most important decision looming for Dundon, but there are others. His first venture into the politically delicate world of the Centennial Authority, which oversees PNC Arena, was to request that plans for a new scoreboard be moved up a year. After two months of bureaucratic wrangling, the deadline has arrived: If the authority doesn't approve the financial reshuffling at its quarterly meeting Thursday, there probably won't be time to install the scoreboard before next season because of the structural work needed to the roof of the arena to hoist the much larger new board.
Dundon also has to decide to what degree the Hurricanes will be involved with the new rink complex developer Jeff Ammons is building in Morrisville, whether the Hurricanes will invest in that facility or wait and try to build their own next to PNC Arena down the road. Dundon said he expected the Hurricanes to be involved in the Morrisville project to some degree, but it's a question of whether that's a short-term or long-term commitment.
Then there's Bill Peters, who is under contract for another season but has an option to walk away this summer. Dundon has continually praised the coach's work since taking over as owner, but acknowledged the season as a whole has been a disappointment.
“Bill's a hard-working guy that does a good job,” Dundon said. “I don't think Bill is the reason. It's not as simple as 'Bill needs to be better.' Everybody needs to be better. Right now I think Bill's done a good job. The question is whether going forward he can get the most out of these guys and he knows that. Bill knows that. And if he believes it, then I believe it.”
Dundon didn't get much of a honeymoon, aside from the buying frenzy for newly available Hartford Whalers gear, thanks to the team's collapse on the ice. His attempts to fill the building rankled some season-ticket holders – was the timing of Francis' firing, right before renewal invoices went out, a coincidence? – and the team's competitive regression made it harder to turn new customers into repeat customers.
But there was only so much any new owner could do taking over in January, and with the team eliminated, the big plans Dundon has talked about for reshaping both the business and hockey operations can now start to take shape.
This much is clear: He isn't any happier than Hurricanes fans with the way things have gone since he took over.
“It couldn't be worse than this,” Dundon said. “There is no outcome worse than this. It's a simple game, win or lose. We lost.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock