Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes terminate Ron Francis' contract

Then general manager Ron Francis talks to reporters at PNC Arena in 2017.  Monday the team announced it was terminating his contract, relieving him of all duties.
Then general manager Ron Francis talks to reporters at PNC Arena in 2017. Monday the team announced it was terminating his contract, relieving him of all duties. cseward@newsobserver.com

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon first reassigned Ron Francis in March, taking away his duties as general manager.

On Monday, the Hurricanes terminated Francis' contract, firing him as president of hockey operations.

Just like that, Francis’ long affiliation with the franchise came to an abrupt end. His jersey, No. 10, has been retired and will continue to hang in PNC Arena, but Francis, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a former Hurricanes captain, no longer is a part of the team.

Dundon, in an interview Monday night, did not want to elaborate on the decision but said he considered the parting amicable.

"I don't think anything has really changed in terms of how I feel about him," Dundon said. "He's a great guy. It's about how we're going to run the organization.

"It's about having the right fit for everybody and making sure everybody is doing it the right way. I still think he's really smart and I still value his judgment. Doing it this way ... it's about coming up with the right process internally. We've got a lot more things we're working on."

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon says that either the players need to get better or better players will be brought in moving forward.

In recent weeks, Francis had been working from his Raleigh home, said to be focusing on the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Team president Don Waddell, serving as interim GM, said Francis’ office at the arena was being converted into a new conference room.

Francis, who has not spoken publicly since being fired as general manager, could not be reached Monday.

Francis, 55, became general manager in April 2014, when Jim Rutherford stepped down as GM. He had the firm support of Peter Karmanos, then the team’s majority owner, who often praised the personnel moves Francis made and his organizational leadership during a team rebuild.

But much changed in January, when Dundon became majority owner. The Dallas billionaire, unlike Karmanos, had no experience with the operation of a professional sports team but a strong sense of how he wanted the Hurricanes franchise to operate.

After Francis was reassigned on March 7, Dundon said it was more about differing personalities than a statement on Francis’ performance as GM, saying, “It was just when he and I came to the conclusion about our stylistic differences that as you work together you get to understand. I don’t think we disagreed about how to improve the team. I think it’s more stylistic about how we would go about getting to a similar place.”

Dundon said then that he hoped Francis would stay with the team.

Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, said it was obvious that the team needed to play better this past year as he spoke at the end of the season press conference at PNC Arena in Raleigh on April 9, 2018.

Francis, drafted by the Hartford Whalers, twice won Stanley Cups after his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His free-agent signing by the Hurricanes in July 1998 gave the franchise — moved by Karmanos to North Carolina in 1997 and renamed the Hurricanes — added credibility.

As captain, Francis was a driving force behind the Canes reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2002, losing in five games to the Detroit Red Wings. Retiring as a player in September 2005, he had his jersey retired by the Hurricanes in January 2006 and was inducted in the Hockey Hall in 2007. Francis was back with the organization’s front office at that time, first as director of player development, then assistant general manager.

In December 2008, when Peter Laviolette was fired as coach, Francis became associate head coach under coach Paul Maurice while continuing as director of player personnel. He rejoined the front office full time in June 2011 as director of hockey operations.

“I wear a lot of hats with this team,” Francis once joked.

As general manager, Francis was limited by one of the NHL's smallest budgets but had success in drafting and developing such players as forward Sebastian Aho -- a second-round pick in 2015 -- and in working a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought forward Teuvo Teravainen to the Canes in 2016. He also was able to sign veteran forward Justin Williams to a two-year, free-agent contract last year, bringing back one of the stars of the Canes' 2006 Stanley Cup champions.

Some other moves backfired. Francis traded for goalie Scott Darling last year and signed him to a four-year contract, believing the former Blackhawks backup was ready to a No. 1 goalie. Darling struggled nearly all of his first season with the Canes, who missed the playoffs for a ninth straight year.

One of Francis' first decisions as GM was to fire Kirk Muller as head coach in 2014 and hire Bill Peters, then an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings with no NHL head-coaching experience.. Peters recently resigned after four seasons to take the head job with the Calgary Flames.

Francis became the first hockey player inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May 2013, a testament to his role — they called him “Ronnie Franchise” — in helping the Hurricanes become a viable part of the state’s sports landscape.

The Hurricanes also announced Monday that Joe Nieuwendyk has resigned his position as pro scout and adviser.

Rutherford, the Penguins' general manager, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Francis was " a terrific guy, a terrific hockey guy" and said he was surprised by the decision.

"I’m sure they’ll find a good GM to go in there. They’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one than him," Rutherford said.

Carolina Hurricanes majority owner Tom Dundon said that "every spot is open," as he evaluates players for next season. He spoke at the end-of-season press conference in Raleigh on April9, 2018.

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