Thomas Dundon talks with reporters after he was introduced as the buyer and new majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 12. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com
Thomas Dundon talks with reporters after he was introduced as the buyer and new majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 12. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

Luke DeCock

Right inside the front door, first Hurricanes changes apparent

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

January 15, 2018 09:47 AM

RALEIGH

Any Carolina Hurricanes fans who arrived through PNC Arena’s south entrances on Sunday would immediately have noticed something different: The Eye, the team store, appeared to have metastasized into the ticketing lobby. Where there was once shiny terrazzo, there were suddenly racks of team gear and employees roaming with tablets ready for quick sales.

So for anyone wondering how specifically things were going to change for fans under new ownership, here was the first clue. Thomas Dundon, in his months of quiet exploration into the franchise, thought The Eye was too small, too hard to get in and out of and took too long to check fans out at the register. Three days after he officially took charge, fans couldn’t get into the building without walking through an array of Hurricanes merchandise. Impulse shoppers, grab your wallets.

This is how it’s going to be for a while, little tweaks like that while the gears and levers of more dramatic changes rumble behind the scenes. And for fans and employees alike, one conversation with Dundon can have an immediate impact.

Before he went back to Dallas after Friday’s game, Dundon met Alain and Monica Taylor, two 300-level season-ticket holders who got married on the ice seven years ago Monday, with Ron the Ref officiating and Stormy serving as the ring-bearer. Struck by their story, Dundon, as an anniversary gift, invited them on a trip with the team at some point in the future and announced it on Twitter on Monday. Without passing any judgment, safe to say that wasn’t Peter Karmanos’ style.

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Had a chance to meet Alain and Monica Taylor last week who were married on the ice prior to a game 7 years ago today. They have been personally invited to join us on a team trip. Happy Anniversary and thanks for being great season ticket members and Caniacs! pic.twitter.com/Lylueyohtd

— Tom Dundon (@TDCanes) January 15, 2018

It’s a generous gesture and it could have significant ripple effects. There are thousands of season-ticket holders who haven’t been invited on the team plane – once or twice a season, the Hurricanes will travel with a charity-auction winner who pays dearly for the privilege – who may now wonder where their invitation is, having stuck it out since Greensboro. (As always, if there were as many fans in Greensboro who now say they were there, they wouldn’t have needed the curtain.) There were team staffers who had to find and notify the Taylors on Sunday, and others who will have to make the arrangements, and the coaching staff and players may not appreciate the distraction. Imagine if there were fans leaving with the team after Sunday’s game. They’d probably pass.

That’s going to be the case with a lot of what Dundon does. Employees are going to have to adjust on the fly to a different way of doing things and execute orders they may not necessarily agree with or understand. He’s going to want to do a lot right away, and there’s going to be some trial and error involved, and not all of it is going to work. The word often used is “disruptive,” and that can be good and bad, but for this franchise it’s a healthy disruption either way.

As an organization, the Hurricanes have been doing things the same way, more or less, for 20 years, and for the last 10 or so at something less than 100 percent efficiency – and not because the Hurricanes have a bunch of lazy or incompetent employees. They just haven’t been asked to deliver more than that for a long time. There’s a certain acceptance of fate that has pervaded every corner of the operation, and a new and assertive leader, whomever it ended up being, was unavoidably going to jolt people out of their comfort zones, beneficially so.

Dundon certainly is that.

Inevitably, for some current Hurricanes employees, this is going to be too much. They’ll find their way elsewhere. Others will thrive and flourish and emerge as leaders, even some who may not realize it yet. It’s hard to predict these things; sometimes, the people who seem most set in their ways are energized by the change. You just never know.

Meanwhile, Dundon and North Carolina FC owner Stephen Malik appear to have found some mutual admiration, and the implications of that for both franchises and the MLS expansion bid are fascinating. As Malik said Friday, “I think there’s lots of things we can do together. Some of that obvious to everyone, isn’t it?” That relationship bears watching.

The Eye's footprint has expanded! Stop by at today's game to see the new setup and items, including autographed merchandise! pic.twitter.com/dV8GDe2JqG

— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) January 14, 2018

As for the good things that were already happening with the Hurricanes, Dundon’s going to end up getting credit for some changes that were in motion before his arrival, like this week’s flash sale on $40 lower-bowl tickets in February and the Hurricanes’ future third jerseys, which are moving through the NHL process but have yet to be revealed. That’s fine. Tying developments like that to the change in ownership will only generate more optimism among fans, and there will certainly be plenty of change that Dundon directly instigates anyway.

That’s as far as the business side goes, where Dundon unquestionably will have free reign. There’s already a test case for his approach to the hockey side of things. Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning put J.T. Brown on waivers, the 27-year-old winger who is not only one of Justin Faulk’s best friends but is the son of N.C. State football legend Ted Brown.

Based on a lot of what Dundon talked about Thursday and Friday, this was a slam dunk. Claiming Brown and his reasonable $1.3 million salary on waivers would have made immediate headlines and sent reporters scrambling to talk to his father while giving the Hurricanes a politically active black player who also enjoys gaming with fans online – in short, the Hurricanes had the opportunity to claim, for almost nothing, substantial publicity and the kind of player whose persona in this market would far exceed his ability.

But there’s ability there, too, and Brown could have added some grit to the fourth line. He may still have the potential to emerge as a goal-scoring threat, even if he hasn’t met the expectations the Lightning had for him when Brown was signed as a sought-after college free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth.

But general manager Ron Francis, based on the team’s scouting reports and proprietary analytics, passed. Anaheim, one spot behind Carolina in the waiver order, claimed Brown instead Sunday. That was a pure, old-school hockey decision, and while Dundon’s fingerprints may already be on decisions elsewhere around the franchise, they weren’t on that one.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock