It would be a good idea to not fall for the notion that Ron Francis received a promotion from the Carolina Hurricanes when team owner Tom Dundon announced Francis had been removed as GM of the team and appointed president of hockey operations on Wednesday.
Make no mistake, Francis is no longer, and never will be, part of the player personnel decision making-process in Carolina again. That much was made clear when the team went out of its way to announce that the new GM would report directly to Dundon. If Francis were to remain any significant part of the equation, the new hire would report directly to him. The new position is basically a placeholder for Francis, who will be paid out the rest of his contract to stay away, and will likely move on before long.
This could be interpreted one of two ways. One is that the Hurricanes have a decisive new owner who doesn’t feel beholden to former star players and recognizes that a change is necessary to move forward. In a way, that’s refreshing. The other is that he’s hockey’s version of his good pal from Dallas beer league basketball, Mark Cuban. There certainly are similarities. Both are rich and successful and neither puts on airs. It remains to be seen whether Dundon will be like Cuban, which would not necessarily be a bad thing given the success the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks have enjoyed under his ownership. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
Really, though, anything is worth a try in Raleigh, isn’t it? This is a team that has floundered for the better part of a decade and has consistently led the NHL in only one category – empty seats. (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. According to NHL.com’s stats the Hurricanes are the best possession team in the league, which, along with the Los Angeles Kings travails proves that even math geniuses aren’t always right.) By any metric, Francis had ample time to turn this thing around and only moved the needle in a backward direction. The Hurricanes are a good bet to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season and are on pace to earn 84 points, just under the totals they had each of the past two seasons.
This is a results-driven business and the results have simply not been there for the Hurricanes. Some of that has been because of bad fortune – nobody could have envisioned that members of a defense corps with that kind of talent would regress and collectively have such a bad year simultaneously – but much of it falls on the doorstep of the GM. Francis appeared to succeed in one key criteria by hiring Bill Peters as coach, but there were a number of player personnel decisions that left much to be desired.
The most significant of those was the fact Francis could not deliver a goaltender capable of leading the Hurricanes out of the abyss. Cam Ward was not supposed to still be the workhorse for this team. First, Francis tried Eddie Lack and that didn’t work. Then last summer he gambled with a long-term deal to Scott Darling – for whom he gave up a third-round pick – and the early returns have been nothing short of disastrous. Signing Victor Rask to a six-year, $24 million contract extension is not looking good.
There have been some shining moments for Francis, specifically getting Teuvo Teravainen from the Chicago Blackhawks for two draft picks and selecting Sebastien Aho in the second round of the draft. The Hurricanes prospect list, led by Czech center Martin Necas, who was a standout at the World Junior Championship, was recently rated 10th in the league in THN’s annual Future Watch edition.
So perhaps someday someone in Carolina will be taking bows on the strength of some of the good work Francis has done. But when you look at the body of work and the amount of time Francis has had to have an impact, relieving him of his duties was certainly not an outlandish decision. Part of the problem is that the Hurricanes came into this season with elevated expectations and they’ve spectacularly underachieved. Some of that is on the players, but it’s pretty clear the owner didn’t want the coach to have to take the fall for this when he had already in his own mind identified the person who needed to go.
And if that results in Dundon being a hands-on owner, then so be it. It’s his toy and he can do whatever he wants with it. And it’s not as though doing things the conventional way has yielded any decent results in Raleigh lately.