On a sunny, spring-like Tuesday in late February, traffic cones roughly outlined a rounded-edge rectangle approximately 200 feet in length by 85 feet in width in the center of the football field at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Now, imagine lining that area with a painted, frozen sheet of ice. Imagine surrounding that playing surface with dasher boards and plexiglass. Imagine packing the stadium full of fans. Imagine capturing the electric atmosphere inside PNC Arena and shifting it two hundred yards south to a space not confined by the structure of a roofed building. Imagine using that setting to stage a regular-season National Hockey League game.
Tom Dundon has wanted to make that a reality since he was introduced as majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes in January 2018.
Just over a year later, in a one-day market visit to 1400 Edwards Mill Road, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took a "walking tour" of Carter-Finley Stadium to generally assess the feasibility of an outdoor game in Raleigh.
"We are taking it very seriously and looking at the possibility," he said Tuesday evening.
The Hurricanes won't play in an outdoor game in the 2019-20 regular season; those games - a Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas featuring the Stars and Predators, and a Stadium Series game at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado between the Avalanche and Kings - have already been announced.
The earliest, then, that the Hurricanes could host an outdoor game would be the 2020-21 season, likely under the Stadium Series banner.
Carter-Finley Stadium would make sense for a number of reasons. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from PNC Arena's doors, and, as Bettman pointed out, it boasts a "tight bowl and good sightlines," especially in contrast to some of the larger cathedrals in which the league has staged outdoor games.
Concerns? Weather isn't one of them, even though Tuesday's high of 63 degrees in Raleigh measured slightly above the usual average. After all, the Kings and Ducks played a game at Dodger Stadium in late January 2014, when temperatures in the daytime pushed 80 degrees and the thermometer read a balmy 63 degrees at puck drop. The Penguins and Flyers fought off rain at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, and multiple outdoor games have been played with a snowy backdrop.
"Can we create conditions that are fair and safe for the players? It's competitive, and when you see how tight the races are, a point or two can matter in who makes the playoffs," Bettman said. "Can we create an event that's up to the scale and scope of the type of events we put on? I'll put up our events against anyone else's in terms of how well they're produced and what they look like."
Just as the cones on the field provided a preliminary sketch of what could be - not that Bettman and his crew needed it, considering they've presided over 26 outdoor games since 2003 - so too preliminary are the plans for such a contest.
"I don't want to mislead anybody or say anything or promise anything until I'm sure. We have some more work to do. We have a variety of arrangements to make," Bettman cautioned. "As important as anything else, if we decide we want to do it, I have to make sure it's OK with NC State."
After the Hurricanes dispatched the Kings, 6-1, on Tuesday night, the rink lights dimmed, and spotlights illuminated Stormy at center ice. The team exited the ice, and the Canes' mascot led the clap that begins each signature postgame celebration. As the clapping escalated and a roar built inside the arena, the Canes raced back out, encore style. "Bunch of Jerks" was projected onto the ice while the players tossed out the "Bunch of Jerks" t-shirts, which have been in high demand.
Video: LAK@CAR: 'Bunch of Jerks' toss out shirts after win
It was a very meta Storm Surge, a total embrace of incendiary media criticism lobbed from afar.
Bettman got to witness this firsthand, just hours after he was asked his opinion on it and knocked the response out of the park, a la Warren Foegele in a recent baseball-themed Storm Surge.
"I happened to talk to some of the players this morning about it, and we had a fun conversation. The players enjoy doing it. That's important. The fans enjoy seeing it. To me, that's the most important element as to what goes on after a game when there's a win," Bettman said. "I consider Don Cherry a friend, and I respect him, but we can agree to disagree on certain things. The fact is, how fanbases connect with our game evolves over time. What might work in an Original 6 city might not work in a city or market that's newer to the game. Think back to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Opening Night and Wild Wing propelling from the rafters. People said, 'Oh, my. How could you do that?' Think about Nashville with the chants and rituals they have and involving country music. That's different. Think about what goes on now in Las Vegas. What each team does to connect with its fans is going to be tailored for their fans and their market. As long as the people involved are feeling good about it, then who's to complain?"
Also on Bettman's Raleigh visit itinerary were a number of meetings with various movers and shakers in the area, including Dundon, Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell, the Centennial Authority and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, among others.
Bettman touched on a few of these in his Tuesday evening media availability.
On Dundon's first year as majority owner of the Hurricanes: "I think he has been an absolute ball of energy. People call him a disrupter, an innovator, but he is looking to make things happen. He wants this team to be competitive and a more important part of the community. He is looking to do it right on and off the ice. For a tenure that's barely a year old, I think he's done some pretty dramatic things, and you're seeing the results."
On renovations to PNC Arena: "I know there are discussions going on about making sure that this building, which is now over two decades old, is upgraded so that it's consistent with what people now expect when they go to major-league arenas. I think that's important for the long-term success and stability of the franchise. I know the Centennial Authority is focused on that, as well, and I'm hoping that discussions proceed in a positive way."
On the state of hockey: "I am pleased with the fact that the game on the ice is exciting, entertaining and competitive. We have extraordinary competitive balance. Our fanbase has never been larger. Hockey is growing at all levels. … There are a lot of people in the hockey world and sports world contributing to grow this great game."