Will the Hurricanes lean heavily on free agents? Probably not, says owner.
The honeymoon is over. The one tangible accomplishment of Tom Dundon's three months as owner of the Carolina Hurricanes is an influx of retro Hartford Whalers merchandise.
The team missed the playoffs, he fired the general manager and has yet to hire another one, the coach's status is in limbo and, on top of everything else, Dundon couldn't even get the Centennial Authority to give him the new scoreboard he wanted for PNC Arena.
When Dundon in February appeared before the authority, which oversees the arena, to request that plans for a state-of-the-art new scoreboard be moved up a year, his presence was greeted with applause and acclaim, the previous owner having never bothered to show up. And until Monday, everything looked to be on track.
Bids were solicited, and then re-bids. Dundon expressed a willingness to cover overages for structural changes, since there was uncertainty about how much it would cost to rework the arena's roof to support the giant new board.
When the building and construction committee met Monday, instead of going through the five bids that were submitted, committee chairman Steve Stroud announced that the scoreboard would have to be pushed back a year because engineers had reported back that they didn't have enough time to assess the roof structure and the authority decided it needed to hire a consultant to come up with better bid specifications.
Hurricanes president Don Waddell, at the other end of the conference table, was something less than thrilled with this turn of events, hoping to approve one of the bids and move forward.
“We're disappointed and we disagree with that assessment,” Waddell said.
The committee voted to consider a package of lower-priority Hurricanes requests for next season, including new lighting and a 3-D projection system along with a warehouse on the arena property to replace the one the Hurricanes currently lease in Morrisville, but the scoreboard was Dundon's splashy big initiative to herald a new regime, and the same one's going to be hanging from the ceiling on opening night in October.
The writing was probably on the wall when it took the authority almost two months to crunch the numbers, turning what was already a rush project into an improbable race against time. That leisurely budgeting process may be unavoidable, but it left too little time for the engineers' work or a prudent decision about the scoreboard.
“It's frustrating,” Dundon said later, “but it's their building.”
Dundon went from a round of applause from the Centennial Authority to being given the run around in the space of 10 weeks. But that's life as a tenant: The authority has a responsibility and a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is to slam the brakes out of caution.
The momentum of the ownership change wasn't going to last forever, either.
Not getting the scoreboard is deflating for the Hurricanes and their fans alike, but at some point, things will start to move forward again. There will be clarity with Bill Peters' situation by Friday. Candidates for the general manager position will resurface as their teams are eliminated from the playoffs. There will be changes to the roster this summer, one way or another.
But even what looked like low-hanging fruit – the scoreboard being Exhibit A – has been hard to pick. Waddell said Monday that the Hurricanes ticket-pass promotion in February generated a lot of sales leads but only one pair of full season tickets. The Hurricanes were able to get more people into the building under Dundon – almost a 10 percent bump after he bought the team – but it'll take hard work (and winning) to get them to commit for the long term.
(The Hurricanes later issued a clarification regarding Waddell's comments: "The leads generated from the Fanuary promotions have generated 32 new full season tickets, so far.")
Turning this franchise around won't be easy. That doesn't mean it's impossible, or will take a long time. But when even something that seems as simple and obvious as a new scoreboard hits a speed bump, there isn't much else on Dundon's agenda that figures to be any less of a chore.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock