Monday’s end of season press conference with Tom Dundon created a reasonably decent ruckus and a wide range of opinions spanning the full spectrum from declaring it a train wreck to lauding his commitment to change and different way of doing things.
You can find my reaction on a few of the topics he discussed HERE. The article is worth a visit to also see the wide range of thoughtful reader comments that also come at it from all angles.
If pressed to briefly summarize my thoughts on the press conference and Tom Dundon’ tenure as owner this far, I would call both a mixed bag.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes up the case of defending Tom Dundon and his path thus far as the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes. To be clear, I am not making the case that he will be a great owner. Any assessment pro or con at this stage would be premature and mostly a wild guess. And I am also not saying that I agree with everything that he has done thus far. Actually, I think he has missed in a few key regards. Rather, I am at least considering the case that everything is on track with regard to the ownership transition that everyone has been calling for for multiple years.
The Carolina Hurricanes are in a better place under new ownership
That transition is a key starting point for making the case for Tom Dundon. The organization was multiple years deep into Peter Karmanos wishing to sell the team but seemingly minimal progress on that front. As long as the team was for sale, the potential existed for a sale to coincide with the team moving. And as long as the team was for sale, the team seemed to be managed more for budget than for winning. In addition, the organization had stagnated in terms of new initiatives and marketing to help fill the arena admittedly under challenging circumstances. No doubt there is risk in any change, and certainly it is possible that new ownership proves to be worse than the previous regime. But without even a pause, I will gladly take the transition to a new owner whose starting point is to keep the team in Raleigh over riding further with a lame duck owner and/or holding out for something different.
Change is needed
Change is hard. But change is needed. We have learned quickly that everyone with a stake in the team even if just fandom has a different opinion of what the ‘change’ should be/look like. And while I do think there have been some missteps in the early going, the general approach of making changes is a necessary one, even if uncomfortable at times.
Engagement at a general level is good
One of the most consistent criticisms of Peter Karmanos was his lack of involvement locally and visibility in the local community. Despite still living in Texas, Tom Dundon has been the opposite thus far. He immediately rolled up his sleeves to make a few changes on the business side and to at least try a few initiatives. He has been engaged locally. And he is actively involved with trying to improve the team. There are legitimate debates about what the right way to do that is, how much involvement is too much in certain areas, etc., but at the end of the day, Tom Dundon’s high level of engagement is a positive.
Tom Dundon has nothing to do with the 2017-18 struggles
Amidst the various undercurrents and side stories, the overriding issue right now is the the disappointing results for the 2017-18 season. While Tom Dundon will have a significant role in trying to make changes to improve for 2018-19, it is important to note that he had virtually nothing to do with the 2017-18 season’s failure. He did not close on his purchase of the team until January 11, 2018 which was just before the 44th game of the season. He had nothing to do with any of the decisions made during the previous offseason and very few levers that he could pull for the current season after acquiring the team. So in terms of assigning blame for the disappointing 2017-18 results, Tom Dundon had virtually nothing to do with it.
He is only four months into a significant learning curve
Today marks the fourth-month mark since Tom Dundon officially closed on the purchase of the team. It is reasonable think that he is still climbing the learning curve, accumulating information and only just beginning to create a long-term strategy and chart a course. I think one could actually make a pretty good case that Dundon’s strategy at least as presented being hazy at this point is at least partially a good thing. The lack of a clearly articulated plan might actually suggest that perhaps Dundon appreciates the complexity of the business and recognizes the need to accumulate and analyze more information before making concrete long-term decisions.
Building his own team is not out of the norm
One of the things that has rankled feathers with some fans is the demotion of Ron Francis out of the general manager role. The idea of a new owner making an assessment of which members of the existing team fit with how he wants to run the business is not outlandish. Major transitions at executive levels quite regularly come with a subsequent changeover of many of the people who report directly to that executive. Exact details of where the disconnect between Ron Francis and Tom Dundon was is not known, but I think one has to give him the leeway to build his own team.
Current pause and uncertainty as a sign of more methodical approach beneath the surface
One of the criticisms of the post-season press conference was the lack of crispness and defined plan for much of anything. The process for deciding whether or not to retain Coach Bill Peters was murky with no firm timeline or defined process. The same was true for the search for a new general manager. And when you sort through the entirety of Monday’s press conference, the lack of clarity was an overarching theme. But without a general manager in place, would we really want Tom Dundon to come forward with a detailed plan and/or a number of key decisions that had long-term impacts on the team? Or would we prefer that things move slowly until a new general manager was in place? And on the general manager front, would we prefer that the team hire quickly from whoever is available right now, so we can get on with the upcoming offseason? Or would we prefer that a more thorough search process be undertaken that considers as many options as necessary to make the best possible choice for the long-term? Only time will tell, but the lack of clarity and established direction right now could actually prove to be Dundon drawing a line in terms of his involvement in hockey operations decisions.
Be careful to consider the biases and motivations of outside assessments
Tom Dundon has very quickly and clearly established himself as a maverick of sorts. That could be good, or it could be bad, but one thing it will not be is a persona that fits neatly into the ‘good old boys’ network that is the NHL. The sizable part of the mainstream NHL media that has had a negative bias toward most things Hurricanes hockey from the beginning is not going to change. And if Tom Dundon takes on the role of rogue outsider, that will only intensify the bias and scrutiny that already exists from a contingent of the broader media. Dundon already has a mark on his record with many for demoting Francis, so watch for coverage with a thinly-veiled purpose of tearing Tom Dundon and the Carolina Hurricanes down. Ironically, if Dundon goes outside the box and has success, that will not earn him credit but more likely even more biased scrutiny. Remember that part of this group actually thinks that Marc Bergevin in Montreal has a handle on things.
Netting it out
No doubt, data points of all varieties are pouring in right now with regard to assessing Tom Dundon as an owner. Any final assessment of Dundon’s role and abilities as an NHL owner are premature right now. Going a step further, even trying to understand what exactly Tom Dundon’s role is after the dust settles on a transition period and a team and a plan are in place is also premature. I am on record as not agreeing with some of Dundon’s decisions and actions thus far. While I do think there is value in assessing Dundon’s individual actions is useful in gradually building the puzzle that shows what his role is and how effective he will be as an owner, I think it is also incredibly important at this early juncture to realize that only a few pieces are in place with many more to come.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With another day to process Monday’s press conference and possibly considering some of the points above, is anyone who was negative on Dundon gravitating somewhat back toward neutral/wait and see?
2) What positives do you see from Tom Dundon thus far as an owner and as a leader for the organization?
3) Is there a part of you that hopes Tom Dundon goes completely rogue (in a smart way) and beats the NHL establishment?
4) (Not letting go from yesterday) Who else is joining Cory and I’s brigade that defends the goodness of BBQ pork nachos at PNC Arena? 🙂