Longtime Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, who built a roster that won the 2006 Stanley Cup, is handing over the reins to a Hall of Famer.
One-time Hurricanes centre Ron Francis will succeed the 65-year-old Rutherford, who will remain in an advisory role as team president, the NHL club announced Monday afternoon. Francis also was named the Hurricanes' executive vice president.
"I look at this as a fresh start," Francis said. "I don't want to just kind of build a team that gets into the playoffs for one year. I would like to build it so that it's a very solid franchise and we can do it on a yearly basis."
'He has proven that he has the work ethic and passion to get the Hurricanes back into the Stanley Cup playoffs.' - Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. on new GM Ron Francis
Francis, 51, has been Rutherford’s assistant since October 2007 and accepted the role of vice president of hockey operations in June 2011 after being an associate to then-head coach Paul Maurice for two-plus seasons.
The two-time Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins has held other roles within the organization since retiring as an NHL player on Sept. 14, 2005 after 23 seasons with Hartford, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto.
"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," Hurricanes owner and CEO Peter Karmanos Jr. said in a statement released by the team. "He has proven that he has the work ethic and passion to get the Hurricanes back into the Stanley Cup playoffs."
In other front-office moves, Brian Tatum was named assistant GM and Mike Vellucci has been hired as assistant GM and director of hockey operations.
The four highest-paid Carolina players — forwards Alexander Semin and Eric and Jordan Staal, and goalie Cam Ward — are coming off subpar seasons. They made a combined $28 million US last year and will do so again in 2014-15.
"This year we were at the [NHL salary] cap, I believe. Didn't make a heck of a lot of difference, did it?" Karmanos said. "We'll set the budget wherever we think we can have the most competitive hockey team."
Muller staying, going?
One of Francis's first jobs will be deciding whether Kirk Muller will receive a fourth year as coach. Muller is 80-80-27 in three seasons and the Hurricanes finished 13th in the 16-team East this year with a 36-35-11 record.
"In fairness, I think it's a decision that kind of needs due process," Francis said.
Drafted in the first round (fourth overall) by the Whalers in 1981, Francis scored 549 goals and 1,249 assists for 1,798 points in 1,731 regular-season games to rank fourth all-time on the league’s points list behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe.
He holds team records with 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,186 games played.
A four-time all-star, Francis won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct three times and the Frank J. Selke Trophy as best defensive forward once.
Carolina retired his No. 10 jersey on Jan. 28, 2006 and Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12, 2007.
He takes over the GM’s position that Rutherford held for 20 years, helping shepherd the team's move from Hartford to Raleigh, N.C.
"Twenty years is a long time for me," Rutherford said. "I've thought about this for a few years, and certainly the time is right now."
Rutherford also put together a team that reached the Cup finals in 2002, losing to Detroit.
"I am happy that Jim will retain a role with our team," Karmanos said. "He leaves quite a legacy with our organization, bringing the team three divisional championships, two conference titles and the Stanley Cup."
Francis soon will need to make decisions on the team’s most notable unrestricted free agents, forward Brett Sutter and defenceman Joni Pitkanen.
Tatum, 40, was the Hurricanes' vice president of team operations since 2012 after previously working as director of team operations.
As assistant GM, he will be responsible for staff contract negotiations, scheduling, serving as the team's liason to the NHL regarding collective bargaining agreement matters and day-to-day hockey operations administrative duties.
Vellucci, 47, joins the Hurricanes after 14 seasons at the junior level as head coach/GM of the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers.
In his new role, the native of Farmington, Mich., will oversee scouting and player development for the Hurricanes. He led Plymouth to a record of 468-322-36 and was the first American to win OHL coach of the year honours following the Whalers' league championship victory in 2007. Vellucci was named OHL coach of the year and top executive last season.
He was drafted by Hartford in the seventh round in 1987 and played one NHL season in 1987-88.