Long-speculated changes were made official on Monday, as the Carolina Hurricanes’ front office received a significant shake-up.
Ron Francis, who has served in the team’s front office in varying capacities since 2006, was named executive vice president and general manager. Francis, 51, is the franchise’s eighth general manager and just the second person to hold that position 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.”
Jim Rutherford has stepped down as general manager, a position he served dutifully in for 20 seasons, and 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. “20 years is a long time for me, and I’ve thought about this for a few years. Certainly, the time is right now.”
In two additional front office moves, Mike Vellucci, former head coach and general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers, has joined the Canes as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations. Brian Tatum, former vice president of team services, is now also the assistant general manager.
Vellucci, 47, will oversee scouting and player development for the Hurricanes after spending 14 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.”
Tatum, 40, has spent 16 seasons with the Hurricanes in a number of roles. In his assistant GM role, Tatum’s responsibilities will 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 opportunity here, as I am to work with him going forward as well.”
The trio comprises a fresh start for the Canes’ front office, with each bringing a unique perspective to the organization.
“I’ll be looking at every aspect of how we operate, and what the areas are we think we can improve,” Francis said. “I’ll be making those decisions along with my staff, leaning heavily on Mike Vellucci and formulating things together going forward.”
Rutherford, who said these changes were imminent regardless of how the 2013-14 season played out, will still be around the office, though in a smaller, more reserved role.
“I’m only in an advisory role, so if [Ron] asks me a question, he can do that at his own risk,” he joked. “No one will report to me, so I’m stepping a long ways away from it. But I’m certainly around, and anybody who needs to ask me any questions, I’m happy to help.”
Francis already has a vision for his team.
“You have to be able to skate, and you have to be a fast team,” he said. “I like players who are smart. I like players who are skilled. I like players who absolutely love to compete.”
And in the coming weeks, Francis plans to sit down with his new executive team to analyze every detail, including the coaching staff’s yet undecided future.
“In fairness, I think it’s a decision that needs due process,” Francis said. “At the end of the day, this is a fresh start for everybody. … But if we have to make changes, we’ll make changes.”
Francis approaches his new role with a hands-on attitude and a blue-collar work ethic, much like his 23-season, Hall of Fame playing career in which he posted 549 goals and 1,249 assists (1,798 points), ranking fourth all-time on the league’s scoring list behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe.
“It’s that kind of unassuming leadership and will to win that I think will make him an outstanding general manager,” Canes Owner and CEO Peters Karmanos said.
“I am my own man,” Francis said. “Now I have the opportunity to try to put together a team that can win the Stanley Cup, and that’s what I’d like to do.”