RALEIGH, N.C. — Jim Rutherford stepped down as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, and the team promoted Hall of Fame player Ron Francis to replace him.
In a series of moves, the Hurricanes also hired Mike Vellucci as assistant GM and director of hockey operations and promoted Brian Tatum to assistant general manager.
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Rutherford, who also owns part of the team, will remain in an advisory role as team president. He assembled the teams that won one Stanley Cup, played for another and reached the Eastern Conference final in 2009.
The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since then, the longest active drought in the East.
“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.”
Francis had long been considered the team’s GM-in-waiting. The former team captain holds team records with 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,186 games played. He has been the team’s vice-president of hockey operations since June 2012.
He took over as the team’s director of player development in 2006 and was an assistant coach under Paul Maurice from 2008-11 before returning to the front office that June as director of hockey operations.
Now that he’s running a team for the first time, it remains unclear just how much financial flexibility Francis will have.
The four highest-paid players — forwards Alexander Semin and Eric and Jordan Staal, and goalie Cam Ward — are coming off subpar seasons. They made a combined $28 million 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?” owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said. “We’ll set the budget wherever we think we can have the most competitive hockey team.”
One of Francis’ 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.
Rutherford, 65, is a former NHL goalie who spent two decades as the club’s GM, and helped shepherd its move from Hartford to North Carolina. He said he and Karmanos casually discussed stepping aside and those talks grew increasingly more serious beginning in January and February and continued through the early off-season.
“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.”
Vellucci, 47, will oversee the team’s scouting and player development after spending the past 14 seasons as head coach and general manager of the Plymouth Whalers — the Ontario Hockey League team owned by Karmanos.
Tatum, 40, is entering his 17th year with the team and has been its vice-president of team operations since 2012 after spending five years as its senior director of team operations.