Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.
We simply don’t see NHL teams without GMs into August, yet that’s where the Minnesota Wild are at. It’s highly unusual that the Minnesota Wild are looking for a GM as late as August 6. Technically, they’re not the only NHL team without an official GM, though, largely thanks to the way Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon operates.
Making a strange occurrence even stranger, acting Hurricanes GM Don Waddell has been interviewing for that Wild GM position, according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required). He can interview for that gig because, simply put, Waddell isn’t under contract with the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes fans don’t necessarily need to panic, particularly with what seems to be a strong and beneficial analytics influence coming from Eric Tulsky. This situation does underscore another notion, though: this team’s outlook hinges on Dundon’s own.
Now, that’s true with just about every NHL team. After all, the owner writes the checks, arranges arena deals, and hires the GMs who do the rest. Even by those standards, Dundon stands out as an owner to watch.
[MORE: Three Questions | 2018-19 in review | Hurricanes under pressure]
At the moment, it seems like the NHL is still testing out how much of an X-factor Dundon might be.
By most standards, the Canadiens’ offer sheet to Sebastian Aho was almost comically weak. Indeed, Aho at $8.454M is such a steal that it’s already listed as one of the best contracts in the league.
While I believe the offer sheet was as much Habs GM Marc Bergevin doing some PR work, the structure including a $21M signing bonus served as a test. After Dundon’s curious investment in the failed AAF, would he balk at paying Aho a bunch of money up front?
The Hurricanes ended up answering that question by emphatically matching the Aho offer sheet, and even sending out a sassy tweet or two.
It doesn’t totally erase doubts, though: what happens when the Hurricanes are asked to spend money on less-obvious players than a true, young star like Aho?
After all, they might be pinching pennies with Waddell, seemed to do so in allowing reigning Calder Cup-winning AHL coach Mike Vellucci to walk, and may have even skimped marginal dollars with their former radio announcer.
Crucially, none of those decisions guarantee major losses for the Hurricanes. Really, the Hurricanes might as well name analytics darling Eric Tulsky their GM at this point, and it’s possible that strong prospects drove the success of the Charlotte Checkers as much as any schemes or speeches from Vellucci. The Hurricanes have spent money to get an edge, too, including going off the beaten path by buying out Patrick Marleau to gain Toronto’s first-rounder.
So we’ll need to wait and see if Dundon spends at key times.
With Justin Faulk entering a contract year and Dougie Hamilton two years away from a new deal, will Carolina be able to maintain its sterling surplus on defense, which was the biggest factor in their 2018-19 success? If Petr Mrazek and James Reimer don’t get it done as their goalies over the next two years, will the Hurricanes make bolder investments in net? What happens if Andrei Svechnikov ends up proving he’s at an Aho-like level after playing out the next two years of his rookie contract?
The Hurricanes are off to a strong start with Dundon as owner, and there are factors that point to that continuing. Still, it remains to be seen how this team — and its intriguing owner — ends up weathering the inevitable storms that come in both hockey and sports.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.