The Hockey News - Money & Power
IN FEWER THAN nine months as majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Tom Dundon swapped out the GM, assistant GM, coach, two key players and a Hall of Fame radio broadcaster. For a franchise that had muddled along for years under the well-intentioned, underfunded, absentee ownership of Peter Karmanos, the pace of change since Dundon took over has been a systemic shock.
How it all works out remains to be seen, and will be judged not only by ticket sales and balance sheets but performance on the ice, since Dundon is as hands-on in that area as he is on the business side of the franchise, despite his lack of previous hockey knowledge. This much is certain: he’s not like any other NHL owner.
Dundon, who made his money in subprime auto loans, raised eyebrows around the league with his prolonged and eventually futile search for a GM to replace Ron Francis. From the outside, hockey insiders saw this as a bungled search, done on the cheap, a perception reinforced when Dundon ended up convincing team president Don Waddell to take the job.
From Dundon’s perspective, it was a chance to solicit countless honest opinions about his team, its talent and the organization. (He did end up adding Rick Dudley and former agent Paul Krepelka to the front office, hires that would have been greeted with acclaim if made by a new GM.)
It isn’t a traditional GM job anyway, where the manager makes decisions and takes them to the owner for approval. Dundon thinks one of his advantages as an owner is an ability to make better decisions with the information available, so on all but the most routine moves the GM’s voice is just the loudest of many – assistant GMs, coaches, scouts, analytics and others – that will inform a decision ultimately made by Dundon.
That’s the process he used to turn the Texas auto-finance business he started with a few friends into an empire that he sold to Spanish banking conglomerate Santander in 2006 for $636 million. He kept a 10-percent share and continued to run the business, pocketing $713 million when he left in 2015 after Santander took the division public.
His wife and four children have remained in Dallas with the rest of Dundon’s business, primarily in private equity and real estate – and golf. Dundon, who has played several times in the AT&T Pebble Beach ProAm, is a major investor in the Topgolf chain as well as the course that now hosts Dallas’ PGA Tour event. He also plays pickup basketball with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
The Hurricanes are his team, top to bottom, and that’s true even though Karmanos and a group of 20 minority owners hold about one-third of the franchise, since they were brought aboard during the Karmanos era and given limited power. Dundon has the option to buy the remaining 39 percent of the team in 2021. (Dundon also has an option to sell the team back to Karmanos at that time.)
His personal stamp is everywhere, from the screensavers on the displays in the renovated dressing room, to the two games the Hurricanes will wear Hartford Whalers jerseys this year, to the challenges he issued Scott Darling and Haydn Fleury to get in shape over the summer (both did), to the revamped roster.
While moving up in the draft lottery to land Andrei Svechnikov at No. 2 overall was pure luck, Dundon pushed hard to make a bigger splash at the draft and Waddell ended up swinging a deal to acquire Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland for RFAs Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin – only hours after both had turned down contract extensions.
Dundon’s outside-the-box approach has brought criticism his way, too. He reportedly offered GM and coaching candidates salaries below the league standard, delaying the hiring process for both positions.
Not all is just change for change’s sake. Dundon was the last person to expect Carolina’s new coach to be part of the old regime, but former Hurricanes captain and assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour quickly emerged as the top candidate for the bench job – and the embodiment of the new identity the franchise is trying so hard to embrace. – LUKE DECOCK