The clock is ticking. Ron Francis fired coach Kirk Muller a week after taking over as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. That was more than a month ago and since then … nothing. At some point, the Hurricanes are going to need a coach. Patience, Francis said.
“I’m more focused on trying to be thorough and comfortable with the guy we get than get this behind me,” Francis said.
Francis said the Hurricanes have interviewed “between six and 10” candidates for the job, but two obvious potential choices remain under wraps. New York Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson and Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens are both still otherwise occupied.
(Rangers general manager Glen Sather scoffed at the idea he might let his people sneak an interview between the conference and Cup finals: “Do you honestly think somebody would pick up the phone and say, ‘I’d like to talk to one of your personnel at this time of year?’ I wouldn’t entertain the thought of letting anyone speak to anyone right now.”)
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So the Hurricanes wait. And Francis is OK with that, even though the top coaching free-agent on the market, former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, landed with the Washington Capitals long ago. Another hit the market Friday after Jim Rutherford, jumping from the Hurricanes to the Pittsburgh Penguins, fired Dan Bylsma in his first act as general manager.
Add Bylsma to a Hurricanes list that is already believed to include former Florida Panthers coach and Hurricanes player Kevin Dineen, Charlotte (AHL) coach and former Hurricanes player Jeff Daniels, journeymen Jacques Martin and Marc Crawford, Stevens and Samuelsson, and others.
While many of his recently assumed responsibilities have been new to him, his process has been particularly novel for Francis. Rutherford, having done his coaching changes in midseason, didn’t have much advice to offer even before Pittsburgh called, so Francis drew on his friends and peers in the game to help design the interview process.
“It’s interesting in the sense that it was new for me while probably some people I’m interviewing have been through it more than I have,” Francis said.
Meanwhile, Francis has traveled to Toronto for the NHL scouting combine for the first time, interviewing potential draft prospects, and overseeing the team’s pro and amateur scouting meetings last week in Asheville. That’s a heavy workload for a novice general manager even without conducting a coaching search.
While Francis initially said he hoped to have a coach in place before the NHL Draft, which is now less than three weeks away, he won’t express frustration over the pace of the search, nor any fears that the Hurricanes may be left empty-handed as their decision drags on, especially with Rutherford now competing for candidates in addition to Florida and the Vancouver Canucks.
Presumably, the process should wrap up quickly once the Stanley Cup finals conclude and Francis can contact his final candidates. That could be as late as June 18, nine days before the draft.
“I think we’ve had some interviews with people we feel very comfortable with,” Francis said. “We still want to interview some more people. There are so many chairs but there are more than enough candidates to fill those chairs, so we feel comfortable letting the process run through and be thorough and get to everybody we want to get to.”
As confusing as the delay may be, it’s hard to blame Francis for wanting to take the time to get this right. His tenure may end up defined by this hire. What’s another week or two at this point?