Francis replaces longtime exec Rutherford as ‘Canes GM
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t have a lot of veterans on the roster this year, but perhaps the oldest and most well-respected fixture announced he will be leaving his post.
Jim Rutherford, who until Monday had been the NHL’s longest-tenured general manager, announced he would step down in that capacity with the Hurricanes.
In his place will be Ron Francis, another executive in the Hurricanes organization who’s also the fourth-leading goal scorer in NHL history.
Francis played in the league for the Hurricanes (formerly the Hartford Whalers) from 1981-2005, retiring when at 42. He has subsequently been with the Hurricanes’ front office since 2006.
Rutherford, whose roster moves helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2006, has been the only GM since the franchise moved to Raleigh. He’ll stay on as club president.
Monday’s press conference was bittersweet, as Rutherford, Francis and team owner Peter Karmanos discusssed the move together. It had always seemed like merely a matter of time before Francis got the job, and a matter of time before Rutherford, 65, was ready to step back from the high-stress job.
"Twenty years was a long time for me," Rutherford said. "I’ve thought about this for a few years. It’s certainly, the time is right now."
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season, which led some to speculate that changes would be made at the top. Rutherford, though, said plan had been to step down, regardless of how the 2013-14 campaign ended.
The fans have been frustrated with how stagnant the team has been, as it has hovered at or around .500 for much of the last five seasons, while continuing to miss the playoffs.
Carolina’s not a terrible team, but its not close to greatness, either.
There was a notion the team needed a fresh start after Rutherford decided to step down, and a fresh pair of eyes, so to speak.
"I look at this as a fresh start," Francis said. "I don’t want to just build a team that gets into the playoffs for one year. I’d like to build it so it’s a very solid franchise and we could do it on a yearly basis.
"I am my own man. I played in the league a long time. I was fortunate to be on championship teams. I was captain for awhile. I understand what it takes to be a successful team. I have to take all that sort of background and knowledge and formulate it into the team that we’re building here going forward."
Even though Rutherford will stay on as president, no one will answer to him.
"I’m only in an advisory role, so if (Francis) asks me a question, he can do that at his own risk," Rutherford said, grinning. "I retain the president’s role, but no one will report to me. I’m stepping a long ways away from it, but I’m certainly around and anybody needs to ask me any questions, I’m happy to help out."
Prior to the season’s conclusion, Karmanos told FOX Sports Carolinas’ John Forslund the Hurricanes needed just a few "tweaks".
That sentiment worried fans, who are concerned the franchise will continue to idle.
Francis was relatively vague when asked about the team’s current construction.
"I think on certain nights, you’ve seen our team play some great hockey games and then on other nights, we’ve really struggled. The consistency aspect would be an area of concern for me," Francis said.
"I think there’s certain things you can point to. At the end of the day, this is a fresh start for everybody, myself included, and the players. we’ll analyze everything. If we have to make changes, we’ll make changes but as I said earlier, we want guys who want to be here, want to win, want to be successful and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that."
Francis will at least buy some goodwill from the fan base, even if they view him as Rutherford 2.0. Francis was one of the most popular players in club history, and it’s clear that Rutherford was relieved and proud to pass the torch to his prodigy.
"To get to this point after all those years of knowing (Francis) as a player and a person — we’ve become friends — I am very proud of this day," Rutherford said.
Maybe a fresh set of eyes would have benefitted this team when it came to picking a new general manager. But no one can deny Francis knows this group as well as anyone and should be able to make decisions on who fits best relatively quickly.
"There’s some good and bad with that (familiarity)," Francis said. "There’s frustration obviously at this point, but I do have a real good understanding of what we have and what I think we need. So we’re all set to work pretty quickly and try to get those things fixed."
Francis’ first big decision will be whether or not to return head coach Kirk Muller and his staff.
"In fairness, I think it’s a decision that needs kind of a due process," Francis said. "We had a couple days of exit meetings at the end of the year and then I was off to Finland to cover the U-18 Tournament. I hope to dive in to more detail of that decision in the next little bit."
Karmanos was asked about the coaching staff after the press conference as well.
"You can ask Ronnie that question, because that’s his responsibility," Karmanos said.
The owner is always going to have his own opinions about where the franchise is, but Karmanos made it clear he hired Francis to make those decisions.
He did, however, stick by his original assertion the team isn’t that far away.
"The fact is that our goal is to put a competitive team on the ice. Part of that is winning," Karmanos said. "I think we have the best possible situation at this point in time for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for five years. Ronnie’s got a great opportunity to do something special."