When Ron Francis was hired as the Hurricanes' general manager on May 6, five words stood out from his press conference:
"I am my own man."
The understandable reaction was one of skepticism. Thursday, we found out that the skepticism was unfounded: Francis is indeed his own man, shunning the candidacy of one of his best friends and hiring an organizational outsider in Bill Peters as Hurricanes head coach.
Peters' hire may be more noteworthy in its symbolism than in a hockey sense, although we'll get to the latter momentarily. By hiring Peters - and, more to the point, by not hiring Ulf Samuelsson - Francis has confirmed that he will do things his own way, and the era of the Canes' hockey operations being a veritable Hotel California (you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave) has, apparently, come to a close.
Had Francis hired Samuelsson, it would have been more of the same, basically hoping that Kirk Muller 2.0 would not turn out as Kirk Muller 2.0. It would have been two good friends agreeing to work together, similar to Jim Rutherford's situation with Paul Maurice. In short, it would have given Hurricanes fans no reason to expect that Francis' tenure would be anything but an extension of Rutherford's, and it would have been a disastrous PR hit for a club already dealing with a good amount of upheaval.
Peters, by comparison, brings with him no baggage. In fact, the only connection he has to anyone on the Hurricanes' roster is that he was Drayson Bowman's head coach during Bowman's three years with the WHL Spokane Chiefs, but that's it. By hiring Peters, Francis has served notice that the Rutherford era is, definitively, over.
As for hockey, Peters checks all the boxes on Francis' list: a defensive coach, one who has experience working with a young team, a teacher of the game. It doesn't hurt that he is the third coach hired from the nascent Mike Babcock coaching tree, as pointed out by Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy, and while neither Todd McLellan nor Paul MacLean have won anything of note with the Sharks and Senators respectively, they are undoubtedly a step up from Kirk Muller.
Peters was in demand from the Florida Panthers and, notably, Rutherford's Pittsburgh Penguins, and while he doesn't carry with him the cachet of a Dan Bylsma or the name recognition of a Marc Crawford, the Red Wings' success over the years earns him the benefit of the doubt, much the same way as McLellan and MacLean earned upon leaving Joe Louis Arena.
Although the 2008 Memorial Cup is Peters' only championship, he had a hand in molding a two-time Stanley Cup winner as head coach of the Rockford IceHogs. Eight of Peters' players from his three years in Rockford have their names on the Cup as members of the parent Chicago Blackhawks, and he deserves credit for contributing to one of the premier player pipeline systems in the NHL.
Peters brings with him a fresh set of eyes, experience with championship organizations, and a clean break from the past. It might not be the home-run hire of a Bylsma or a Barry Trotz, but it's at least a solid base hit, and it's one that Canes fans can easily accept.
Francis became his own man on Thursday, and the Canes are better for it.