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Canes Country Round Table, Vol. Two: The GM

Should Ron Francis be the next General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes?

Ron Francis is ready in Carolina
Ron Francis is ready in Carolina
Bruce Bennett

There are a lot of assumptions going on in Carolina.  It is assumed that Jim Rutherford will soon step down as acting General Manager and it is also assumed that Ron Francis will be his successor.

About a month ago, Rutherford was quoted as saying that he was considering stepping down.  When asked about possible changes over the offseason, the General Manager said that they first had to decide who was going to be making the decisions.

That is not exactly a slam dunk announcement of his pending retirement but the wheels are certainly turning in the Canes front office.  There has been nothing but deathly silence coming from Edward Mills Road since Kirk Muller's postmortem, end of season press conference last week.

Will Rutherford, who has the second longest tenure as general manager in the NHL, finally step aside?  Will Ron Francis take over?  Will Francis be allowed to run the show and make his own decisions, or will he just be a puppet at the end of strings pulled by Rutherford, (who very likely will stay on as President), and owner, Peter Karmanos?

This is the question posed to our round table this week.

Once Jim Rutherford steps down, should Ron Francis be the next GM by default, or should the club go outside the organization?

Let's see what the Canes Country brain trust feels about the subject.

Cory Lavalette - Editor

Ron Francis has been groomed to be Jim Rutherford’s replacement as general manager, and there's no reason to divert from that plan. While many will argue that promoting Francis is just like continuing Rutherford’s up-and-down tenure, Francis is his own man with his own ideas.

Despite the five consecutive years without a trip to the postseason, Rutherford still built an organization in a non-traditional market that could lure players to the Triangle and keep its drafted star players in the fold. The job of general manager, especially in this new salary cap world, is ever-evolving, but the foundation built by Rutherford is a stable one.

It will be up to Francis to take the good of what he learned from Rutherford and make his own imprint on the organization. Unlike many first-time GMs, he will have the immediate respect of his peers due to both his time as a player and during his apprenticeship in the front office. Furthermore, don't rule out an outside voice coming in to assist Francis — Plymouth GM/coach Mike Velluci's name has been tossed around, and while he is under the Peter Karmanos banner with the Whalers, he would be a fresh face in the room.

Francis has paid his dues and deserves his shot. With no other sure-thing candidates available, he is the best fit.

Brian LeBlanc - Editor

Not only should Ron Francis be the next GM of the Hurricanes, he should be the next GM on his own merits and not necessarily by default.  Of course, it's pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that Canes owner Peter Karmanos is fiercely loyal to his own, having employed a total of four coaches and one general manager in his 20-year ownership tenure, so this is the type of thing that would offer minuscule odds in Las Vegas, but Francis has served as an apprentice for long enough and in so many different roles throughout the organization that he is more than qualified to take over the corner office.

What casual observers may not realize is how many of Francis' fingerprints are all over the organization already.  It was he who convinced Jim Rutherford to take a flyer on Riley Nash, now a fixture in the Canes' bottom six.  He's been instrumental in monitoring the progress of players like Drayson Bowman and Brett Bellemore in his role as an organizational overseer for the last few years.  It can be argued that some of his pet projects - Zac Dalpe and, to a lesser extent, Zach Boychuk come to mind - haven't panned out, but when you look at Rutherford's misadventures with the likes of Tomas Kaberle, Stephane Yelle and Alexei Ponikarovsky, you realize that any general manager is going to have albatrosses to contend with.

Having already made the argument in this space that Kirk Muller deserves at least a fighting chance with a new braintrust, Francis is the most likely to give him that chance.  An outside GM would give him an extraordinarily shorter leash, and a coach on an ejector seat isn't a successful method to get the team turned around.  Were the organization to go outside the club to replace Rutherford, it's likely they would turn to a current assistant GM anyway (Paul Fenton in Nashville, coincidentally a former teammate of Francis' in Hartford, immediately comes to mind).  If you're going to go that route anyway, why not maintain continuity as much as possible?  Francis would do so and he deserves to assume Rutherford's seat at the helm of the Canes' front office.

Jamie Kellner - Editor - Phoblographer

If indeed Jim Rutherford steps to the side this off-season as General Manager, I support Ron Francis being promoted, because he's earned the opportunity. There is much Francis brings to the table that is unique. He lives in the rarified air of a playing career worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame's first ballot. He has an ownership stake in the team. He has roots and established credibility in the Triangle business community. He's been leaned on over the last several years in his current capacity and has been instrumental in the success of many players in the system and on the roster. He has been diligent in the role he's been given leading up to this opportunity. And while I don't have firsthand knowledge, I get the impression that he is not the kind of person who would accept an organizational leadership role without an understanding that he has full control, authority, and accountability, and for that he has my confidence.

What intrigues me more are the downstream effects of Francis at the helm. It will be interesting to watch his appointment of a second-in-command, to replace the role he is vacating along with the role Jason Karmanos held before he was fired (and not replaced) at the beginning of last season. New eyes from outside the organization would be welcomed, whether someone like Mike Vellucci (as Cory has mentioned) or perhaps an up-and-comer from a hockey market that has seen a recent upswing (say a Dallas or a St. Louis although just spit-balling with no specific name in mind). From there, hard to determine how fast or sweeping other changes would come related to scouting, player development, or coaching, but regardless, changes will occur and are needed.

What concerns me more is if Rutherford decides now is not the time.

Jeff Berrier (PackPride17) - Contributor

That is quite the loaded question.  While I’m sure that many fans would rather see the next Canes General Manager come from outside the organization, I don’t have a problem with Ron Francis taking control.  But I don’t feel him getting the job by "default" is the correct choice either.  I believe Peter Karmanos should interview a couple of candidates and make his decision based on those interviews.  Maybe Francis has a edge over other candidates, but the smart business move is to at least explore your options.

While Jim Rutherford might have trained or groomed Francis for the General Manager position, I think Francis is his own man and will have his own direction for the organization.  From what I’ve heard, Francis wants to get bigger and more physical, which I’ve been saying for years.  I’ve also heard from different places that Francis was instrumental in the Canes selection of Jeff Skinner, the scouting of Riley Nash and the targeting of Andrej Sekera.  These were 3 pretty good players for the Hurricanes last season and if his hands aren’t tied by Karmanos and Rutherford, maybe he can turn this roster into a contender and get the organization going down the right path.  He’s paid his dues as Rutherford’s understudy and I think he deserves very strong consideration for the Canes General Manager position.  Just because he has been a good company man for many years, doesn’t mean he shares the same vision as his boss.  So giving him the opportunity to run the franchise is just like giving the opportunity to any other candidate.  There is potential for failure and there is potential for success, but none of us know how things will turn out until that opportunity is given and time reveals it’s answer.  I feel Francis has earned the right for that opportunity and look forward to seeing what he can do.

Matt Krombach - Contributor - Intern

After five consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, it is time for change.  Ron Francis is the likely candidate to take over the General Manager position for Jim Rutherford.  He is the most suitable for the job, hands down.

Francis was drafted into the franchise as a Hartford Whaler and even with a seven season hiatus, he is one of the most well respected players within the organization and the entire history of the NHL.  During those seven seasons he captured two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Returning to Carolina in 1998, he led the Hurricanes as team captain to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 against the Detroit Redwings.

Overall, Francis is a guy with a winning mentality and knows what it takes to have a winning franchise.  His leadership on the ice could very well transfer to the decision making of a front office executive.   He has also been one of the longest people to be affiliated with the organization.  Francis as a GM will offer a breath of fresh air and a new feel for the team, which is much needed.  With his history of success and being involved in the franchise through their highs and lows, he could be exactly what this team back on track and back into the playoffs.

He has the resume and experience that any front office could ask for and he has a different approach than Rutherford. Francis knows the organization inside and out and was instrumental in drafting Jeff Skinner and other cornerstone players.  If Ron Francis takes over as the new GM we could see a completely different Carolina Hurricanes team, and a change that would be in the best interest of the franchise.

Bob Wage - Editing Manager

First, I would like to throw out there that it would not surprise me if Jim Rutherford did not retire and decided to give it another year.  There does seem to be some type of indecision regarding this from the club and the continued silence from the fourth floor of the PNC Arena makes one wonder why they are delaying any announcement, if they had already made the decision.

Regardless, I feel that Ron Francis has paid his dues and is ready.

There are some around the league who feel that Francis might have been a leading candidate for other GM positions as they have come up, but "The Franchise" has been holding out and waiting patiently for his time to come in Raleigh.

The time is now.  He has been groomed for this and has expert knowledge of the game, of the franchise, and of the organization.  He has respect from his peers around the league and his Hall of Fame status gives him credibility within all circles of the sport. There is probably not a better candidate available, at this given time, even if they do hold interviews from outside the club.

It will interesting to see how much of a difference it makes with him at the helm, but I think he deserves a shot.