He came in with athletic wear and an optimistic attitude.
It seems cliche to say a new era of Carolina Hurricanes hockey began this year, but the phrase rings especially true for Hurricanes majority owner Tom Dundon. The 2018-19 campaign is Dundon’s first as majority owner for a franchise which, in its history in North Carolina, has only ever known a Peter Karmanos-controlled team.
Dundon purchased the team in January of last year and began to impose minor changes, such as locker room upgrades, a new videoboard and promotional changes to try to bring fans back into the stands. “I don’t think I’m happy with what a fan gets when they come here,” he told reporters during his introduction as majority owner. “We want to make sure that someone feels they got value, they got entertainment, and that they tell their friends. I’m not going to do a lot of talking. We’re going to do things.”
And “do things” he’s done. He wanted to pay homage to the franchise’s history and did so by adding a Hartford Whalers alternate jersey. While he didn’t get everything he wanted (see: the videoboard, which will be coming albeit not on the accelerated ), Dundon has kicked open the doors of PNC Arena and took over like an episode of Fixer Upper, making changes in the arena and on the ice.
And the franchise desperately needed the changes Dundon has implemented.
What has become most apparent in the changes implemented is the culture change. While “culture” within a locker room can sometimes be a poor narrative that is drummed up when things go wrong, Dundon wanted to shift the narrative of how the rest of the NHL views who the Carolina Hurricanes really are. The league has begun to take notice.
Take, for example, Tuesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. After the game, the team gathered in the weight room and Dundon did this:
It’s not a matter of pitting one owner against another, but can anyone imagine Peter Karmanos doing this? Did Jeff Skinner get one of these on his way to the Calder Trophy? No.
It’s this kind of unorthodox behavior by Dundon that should make him a fan favorite. A higher-up establishing relationships with members of their staff yields positive results in the workplace. If your boss has a great relationship with you at work, you’re likely to bring your best effort each and every shift. It’s especially important for Dundon to establish that relationship with Andrei Svechnikov as it may help contract negotiations down the road, as well as show Svechnikov that Raleigh is the place to be when free agency eventually comes calling.
Recalling when Dundon arrived, fans became disappointed at the treatment of Ron Francis, the “stepping down” of Bill Peters and Dundon’s quick, definitive evaluations, stating players needed to buy in and play a complete game or he, along with Don Waddell, would show them the door. Skinner experienced that the hard way without even getting a chance to step onto the ice under new head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Skinner’s trade could be viewed as a move with Dundon’s fingerprints all over it. It was daring and bold and didn’t sit well initially with the fanbase, given Skinner’s long tenure with the team and the underwhelming package in return. The move could still come back to bite the franchise, but Skinner hasn’t done anything in the small sample size he’s been given with the Buffalo Sabres that would warrant any immediate regrets.
Of course, winning cures the pain of disappointment for a franchise. The Canes have experienced a taste of success so far this season that has erased the thought of Dundon’s approval of brash moves throughout the offseason. The moves have paid off so far, having shipped Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to Calgary for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While Fox remians un-signed, Ferland has had an immediate impact on a line with Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, providing an edge to the line while letting the duo taking over. Hamilton, while not receiving as many minutes an initially anticipated, has shown impressive puck movement skills and unleashed a shot from the point that was tipped in front for the game tying goal in the season opener.
Without a new outside influence, it’s highly unlikely that these moves would have been made. Ron Francis had a conservative approach to managing the team and some of the success that the Hurricanes have experienced should be attributed to him. Warren Foegele, this season’s pleasant surprise, was drafted during Francis’ tenure, as was star forward Sebastian Aho. Francis’ ability to find late draft steals have resulted in contributors on the blue line as well as along the forward ranks.
But it was the lack of sharp decision-making between Francis and Karmanos that failed to push the franchise forward. The wait-and-hopefully-we-will-win approach did not work since the Hurricanes reached the pinnacle of hockey in 2006 and it took a new voice in Dundon to push the team back to relevance. He has shown the franchise it has a future in Raleigh, without mortgaging it by getting rid of young assets that have a future with the team. He has provided a guiding hand to Waddell without over-stepping too many boundaries.
It’s early and there are still many games left on the table, but the moves Dundon and company have made, despite initial public displeasure, have started to show it was all worth it.