The Carolina Hurricanes are trying something new. Owner Tom Dundon wants the club to be run as a business — just one that happens to operate a hockey team. It’s a collaborative model that is common in many industries, but not so much in sports, and definitely not in the tradition-bound hallways of NHL front offices - including the one on the fourth floor of PNC Arena.
Hurricanes manager of analytics Eric Tulsky says that the differences since Dundon took ownership of the club are stark.
“It used to be much more one on one or small groups,” Tulsky says. “[Former GM] Ron [Francis] was a collaborative person who liked to get peoples’ input, but he did it in that one on one environment. Tom’s approach is more convening everyone in a room together and get all the opinions on the table at the same time. I have a seat at the table, and so does pretty much everyone else in the organization.”
That includes the coaching staff. At times last season, it seemed that there was a bit of a disconnect between former coach Bill Peters and the front office, most notably a few days before the trade deadline when Peters oddly referred to the front office in the third person, implying that any decisions were out of his hands.
But that won’t happen in this new setup. Rod Brind’Amour will be right there alongside the organizational braintrust, says Tulsky. “I think it is definitely true that people are going to have more input in more areas than they used to. The coaches watch a lot of games. They see a lot of details in what players and what teams are doing. In the current setup they will be at the table more often than not, providing us with the benefits of their insight and expertise.”
The role of the Canes’ data staff is expansive, and it isn’t restricted to one specific area - nor was it under the previous administration. Tulsky says that more of their support is focused toward team management rather than in-game coaching, but that isn’t necessarily by design.
“The in-game stuff is awfully complex, so you need some pretty sophisticated data to get into real details of tactics, but there’s a lot we can say with the rudimentary stuff that’s available now, and we’re continually working toward being able to provide more support wherever possible. Right now I think we support management more than coaching, but only because the data is often a little more compelling there.”
The data that Tulsky and his department collect will continue to become more sophisticated over time. Under the previous regime he and his staff were involved both at a micro- and a macro-analysis level, and that will continue with Dundon and Don Waddell running the show. Any changes will be as a result of the data becoming more extensive, not necessarily because of a change in organizational philosophy.
While more often than not it’s a hockey operations person coming to the analytics department to bounce ideas off of them and get more data points to make a decision, at times the opposite will be true. It isn’t rare that Tulsky will identify a player or a certain style that would be a good fit for the Hurricanes and make a case for a move.
That type of two-way communication was a part of the old regime, and it seems likely to become even more prevalent over time in the new setup. For that reason, you can bet that the cottage industry of trade rumors that has popped up since Dundon’s pronouncement that no one on the roster is untouchable except Sebastian Aho is a good bit of smoke around not too much fire. There is no fire sale happening on Edwards Mill Road, and the Canes won’t allow themselves to be willingly fleeced on a deal that leaves them behind where they are now.
Change is coming, but it won’t be change for its own sake.
“It’s been a very young team, and I think sometimes when we hit a tough stretch we didn’t pull out of it as quickly as we could have or should have,” Tulsky says. “But I think that there’s a lot of talented players, a lot of whom aren’t at their peak yet.
“I don’t think it’s inconsistent to say that we have a very talented core, and also that we haven’t won yet. We’re growing into what we can be.”