I’m going to start this off by saying that I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about owner Tom Dundon’s decision to remove Ron Francis as the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes that came down yesterday. Like most of you probably are, I’m a bit conflicted.
Francis did a lot of good things during his tenure at the helm of the Hurricanes. The contract extensions given to Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce this past summer stand out. As does the willingness to sell off veterans like Andrej Sekera and Eric Staal for valuable assets with the team firmly out of playoff contention.
Convincing Stan Bowman to throw Teuvo Teravainen in as a sweetener for taking Bryan Bickell’s contract looks like a stroke of genius. The additions he made this past summer, despite not working out outside of Trevor van Riemsdyk and Justin Williams (I would also argue that it’s foolish to call the Scott Darling signing a failure after a brutal 35 game stretch), were well-reasoned moves that earned universal acclaim for the hockey world.
But it was never really what Francis did that drew the eyre of this fan base at times, it was what he didn’t do. He didn’t make a move to get Matt Duchene when he was available. He didn’t make a “hockey trade” for a guy like Mike Hoffman or Max Pacioretty in the middle of this season to provide more scoring punch to a forward unit that needs it so desperately. He was never willing to make a risky trade from a position of strength to shore up a weakness.
In short, Francis’s managerial style can best be summed up as nibbling around the edges instead of sinking his teeth into the general manager role he’d been groomed to hold for quite some time. And to an extent, can you blame him for his measured, conservative approach?
He spent years watching Jim Rutherford handcuff this team by falling in love with veteran players and giving them contracts based on what they had done rather than what they were going to do. He watched Rutherford hand out draft picks like candy in trades, depleting the prospect cupboard and leaving the roster short on young talent.
So honestly, good on Francis for learning from his predecessor’s mistakes. The problem is that he probably learned from them a little bit too much. Between Rutherford’s risk-taking, free-wheeling style and Francis’s safe manner, there’s a happy medium that the next GM of this team will need to find.
With all that being said, there’s no turning back now. For better or worse, Dundon is going to get a chance to pick his guy to run this team.
There are a couple different routes he could go with this. For one, he could take an established “hockey man” with a proven track record of experience in putting together NHL teams and being willing to take risks. Think former Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi, or perhaps former Toronto GM John Ferguson Jr., who has spent the last couple years as an assistant in Boston. These are just examples of the type of candidate that he could consider. I certainly don’t have any inside information when it comes to this sort of thing.
The other route he could take, and probably the more popular one, would be to poach a young, rising star of an assistant general manager from one of the more successful teams in the league. The poster child for this approach would be Toronto’s Kyle Dubas, who may or may not be in the process of being groomed to take over for the incumbent Lou Lamoriello, but there are other possibilities as well. Tampa Bay’s Julien Brisebois has overseen the transformation of Tampa Bay’s AHL-to-NHL pipeline into an unstoppable force. New Jersey’s Tom Fitzgerald and Nashville’s Paul Fenton come to mind as well.
Whatever path Dundon chooses to go, it needs to be the right one. The optics on demoting a figure as beloved around the hockey world as Francis would be pretty horrific if things continue to stagnate or even get worse.
One also has to wonder if a more risky approach that goes awry would be viewed even less favorably than Francis’s risk-averse methods.
Whatever the case, this is an exciting and anxiety-driving time to be a fan of this team. For better or worse, you can bet that there will be a lot of change coming to 1400 Edwards Mill Road.