Another franchise legend will be taking the top hockey operations job for his former team. This time it's Ron Francis stepping into the role of general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes. Jim Rutherford, the only GM the club has known since moving from Hartford, Conn., to Raleigh, N.C., is stepping aside from those duties. Rutherford will remain the team's president and serve in an advisory role. The club announced the rearranging at a news conference in Raleigh Monday.
This front office shakeup seemed to be coming months ago as the Hurricanes struggled in the regular season and failed to make the playoffs. Rumors had circulated that Rutherford was ready to step away from the job he held for 20 years.
"Based on Jim's decision to step down as GM, now is a good time to go in a new direction,” owner Peter Karmanos said in a statement. “Ron has dedicated himself to learning all aspects of running a hockey team in the past eight years, working in player development, on the coaching staff and in hockey operations. He has proven that he has the work ethic and passion to get the Hurricanes back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I am happy that Jim will retain a role with our team, and I thank him for his 20 years as our general manager. He leaves quite a legacy with our organization, bringing the team three divisional championships, two conference titles and the Stanley Cup.”
Though former players taking big front office jobs is a trend, this new role is a long time coming for Francis. It always seemed like he was being groomed for this job and has been in the Hurricanes' front office for the last eight years after wrapping up his playing career with the club. Most recently, Francis served as the club's vice president of hockey operations after serving in a variety of roles including assistant general manager and associate head coach.
Francis is the franchise's all-time leader in every major offensive category including games played, goals, assists, points. He spent the first 10 years of his career with the Hartford Whalers, who drafted him fourth overall in 1981. He rejoined the organization after seven years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing the last seven years of his career with the Canes. His No. 10 was retired by the club in 2006.
For Carolina fans, Rutherford's departure should be bittersweet. The club has been spiraling a bit lately, but he did help get the team to two Stanley Cup Finals and secured the franchise's first title in 2006.
Rutherford, who was the longest-tenured GM in the league until Monday, started with the franchise when it was in Hartford. He has also been part of the ownership group. In a lot of ways he was more of a partner to Karmanos than an employee. His fingerprints will remain on the franchise for a long time coming.
Now the team is Francis' to build. Having spent his entire post-playing career working in so many areas of the team, he should have a good handle on how things got to where they are. What is less certain is if he knows how to fix them. Will it be much of the same or can Francis bring a fresh perspective? He has to.
The Hurricanes finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-35-11 record and haven't been in the playoffs since 2008-09. Some big decisions lay ahead, like what to do with head coach Kirk Muller, if anything.
In his introductory press conference, Francis did not commit to any decisions about the coaching staff saying it requires a "due process" to fully evaluate. So that's not exactly a vote of confidence there.
There's also some serious player personnel decisions that will have to be made, including how to handle goaltender Cam Ward in the offseason, be it a trade or buyout.
There are some good young players in the system, but there's a lot of work to do on the NHL roster. Francis is going to need to hit the ground running and bring some sort of change to an organization that has been to the top but feels a long way away from it now.