RALEIGH — Ron Francis and Mike Vellucci once were teammates on the Hartford Whalers, if only for a couple of games.
A quarter of a century later, they’re teaming up again. Same franchise but a different team, and in different roles.
The Carolina Hurricanes on Monday promoted Francis to general manager and executive vice president. Vellucci was named assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, and Brian Tatum was named assistant general manager.
Tatum, raised in Raleigh, has been with the organization since 1997. Vellucci is the new face on the management team, a Michigander moving South.
Francis said Tatum, 40, would deal with more of the administrative tasks such as collective bargaining agreement issues, scheduling, overseeing budgets, and travel.
As for Vellucci, Francis said, “He’ll be my right-hand guy on the hockey side.”
The former defenseman is well-versed on the hockey side. The Farmington Hills, Mich., native spent the past 14 seasons as head coach and general manager of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, a junior team owned by Canes owner Peter Karmanos Jr.
Canes defenseman Brett Bellemore played for Vellucci in Plymouth. So did forward Chris Terry, defenseman Michal Jordan and others in the Canes’ system.
“Mike has worked in the business a long time and had a lot of players come though the (Whalers) program,” Francis said. “He’s got a lot of knowledge and business savvy. I think he even ran the building up there.
“I think he’ll be good. He’s ready for the challenge.”
And prepared for it. Vellucci, who was the OHL coach of the year and executive of the year in 2012-13, said he watched about 60 Hurricanes games this past season while juggling his duties with the Whalers.
“I think I know this team,” Vellucci said of the Canes. “I wasn’t here. In watching on TV I can say there are plays here or plays there you don’t like, but they seemed really close and ran into some injury problems.”
The Hurricanes failed to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fifth straight season, causing angst among their fans and some hard decisions to be made on personnel and the makeup of the team.
Asked what’s needed, Vellucci said, “I think I’d say the exact same thing as Ron – we need to get bigger. That’s my key, I’ve always had big and strong teams.
“That doesn’t mean you’ve got to have a bunch of tough guys. You’ve got to be big and fast and a team that can skate and can score. I think that’s the biggest issue I see from those games.”
Vellucci’s teams at Plymouth were perennial playoff teams. The Whalers made their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance this season, even with a number of new faces in the lineup.
The Whalers won the OHL championship in 2006-07, when Vellucci became the first American to be named OHL coach of the year. Among his former players are Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars and James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Vellucci, 47, said he has had inquiries from other NHL teams about management positions but never wanted to leave. His ties to the Detroit area included a close association with Karmanos, the Compuware co-founder and former CEO and a longtime sponsor of junior hockey.
Why leave now?
“This is a great opportunity for myself and a great area to raise a family,” Vellucci said. “Working with Ronnie (Francis) is the key. I can learn a lot from him, and I think he can take some things from me and we can work together and have a great relationship that way. Knowing him for so long, I think it will be great partnership.”
Most of Vellucci’s playing career was spent in the minors, including 10 games for the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds in the East Coast Hockey League. A seventh-round draft pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1984, he played in two NHL games for the Whalers in the 1987-88 season.
Vellucci said Francis, the Whalers’ captain, had a few words to say before he made his NHL debut.
“He said, ‘Well, kid, congratulations. The bad news is you have 299 to go to your pension,’ ” Vellucci said, smiling. “I never got there.”
Not as a player. But he’s back in the NHL now.
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