(photo: Gerry Broome/Associated Press)
The Carolina Hurricanes have undergone an extensive facelift in the past week – not only changing up their front office, but behind the bench as well. Last week it was announced that long-time General Manager Jim Rutherford was being replaced with Hurricanes alum Ron Francis, and this week three coaches saw the boot, including head coach Kirk Muller.
Ron Francis has been serving in the team’s front office since 2006 in several capacities, but now he has the prestigious title of Executive Vice President and General Manager. The fifty-one year old will be the franchise’s eighth General Manager, but just the second since 1997.
“I’m certainly extremely excited to be chosen to be leading the Carolina Hurricanes,” Francis said at a Monday news conference. “I do have a real good understanding of what we have and what I think we need.”
The ex-General Manager, Jim Rutherford, has stepped down from the position he served for 20 seasons that saw his team reaching the Stanley Cup finals twice, and bringing home the cup to Raleigh once. He will remain with the organization as its president in an advisory role.
“I’m really pleased with the direction we’re going. Ronnie has paid his dues,” Rutherford said. “Twenty years is a long time for me, and I’ve thought about this for a few years. Certainly, the time is right now.”
Francis, who spent twenty-three seasons in the NHL, will approach his new role with a hands-on attitude and a blue-collar work ethic. The Hall of Famer posted 549 goals and 1,249 assists, giving him 1,798 points over that time. He ranks fourth overall on the league’s all-time scoring list behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Gordie Howe. He played most of his career within the Hurricanes/Whalers franchise, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in between where he won two Stanley Cups.
In addition to a new General Manager, the Hurricanes made two additional front office moves. Mike Vellucci, the former head coach and General Manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers, has joined the team as their Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations.
The forty-seven year old will oversee scouting and player development after spending fourteen years in Plymouth.
“I’ve been in Plymouth for a long time, and I felt in the last couple of years, something I wanted to pursue was going to the National Hockey League. Everybody wants to be involved in the No. 1 league in the world, so I thought about it for the last couple of years, and it just came about in the last couple of days. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to work along with Ronnie,” Vellucci said. “He’s just a great guy, and we should have a good relationship and have a lot of fun working together.”
The former Vice President of Team Services, Brian Tatum, will now also be an Assistant General Manager. The forty-year-old has spent 16 seasons with the Hurricanes in a number of roles. In his new role, he will have responsibilities that include staff contract negotiations, scheduling, all day-to-day hockey operations, administrative duties and more.
“He’s a top-quality individual who succeeds at everything he does,” Francis said. “I know Brian is excited about [the] opportunity here, as I am to work with him going forward as well.”
Ron Francis’ first move as General Manager was to give the coaching bench an overhaul. Head coach Kirk Muller, and assistant coaches Dave Lewis and John MacLean were all relieved of their coaching duties. Greg Stefan, who served as the goaltending coach, was reassigned to the pro scouting department. The only member of the staff to remain was Rod Brind’Amour.
“I just felt at this point going forward we needed a fresh start,” Francis said.
Ron Francis and the Hurricanes will now start the search for the franchise’s thirteenth head coach, and the fourth since 1997.
“It would be an open search at this point,” Francis said. “We’ll start with a few names on a list. I’ve already had some calls and emails today from people wanting to throw their name in the hat, so I think [the position is] very attractive.”
Though Brind’Amour was kept in the fold, Francis said the new head coach would have some flexibility in filling out his staff. Francis felt like the former Canes captain did not have a prominent role on the staff, and had more to offer. That was why he was kept on board.
Over the coming weeks the new GM will continue to look at ever aspect of the organization from the top down. This includes the future of the coaching staff with their minor league team in Charlotte, and the development process of the players in the system.
“We are looking at everything,” Francis said. “We do have more meetings starting tomorrow morning going forward to look at all different facets of the organization from how we draft to what type of players we draft to our make-up and how we develop and so on.”