Hurricanes’ GM search could go in several directions

With Ron Francis kicked upstairs, new Carolina owner Tom Dundon could take several paths in replacing him

Ron Francis is out as general manager of the Hurricanes after nearly four years of building the team’s roster. (Lauren Rose / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes new majority owner, Tom Dundon, made his first big move last week, announcing that Ron Francis will be moved to president of hockey operations and the team would hire a new general manager.

Dundon has said his and Francis’ styles didn’t mesh, and the new GM will report directly to the owner — meaning Francis has been essentially pushed aside in the decision-making process.

So where does Dundon go from here? The good news is there are several candidates, some on the rise, others with NHL experience and success, and some off-the board picks. Here’s a breakdown of some of the options.

In-house candidates

The Hurricanes have two other former NHL GMs on the payroll, though both would likely be long shots to get the job.

Don Waddell, the president of the Hurricanes’ parent company Gale Force Sports & Entertainment, orchestrated the sale of the team from Peter Karmanos Jr. to Dundon and was the former GM of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers. The team, however, had little success in Waddell’s decade at the helm, reaching the postseason just once when the Thrashers won the 2006-07 Southeast Division title. He was let go by the franchise when the team was sold to True North and relocated to Winnipeg.

Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk is a pro scout and adviser to the Hurricanes, a job he took following his dismissal as GM of the Dallas Stars. The Stars finished out of the playoffs in all four of Nieuwendyk’s years running the team. He did have some success in the later rounds of the draft, most notably taking John Klingberg in the fifth round in 2010, but whiffed on three of his four first round picks.

Another option is Mike Vellucci, the current Hurricanes assistant GM and coach of the Charlotte Checkers. Vellucci has the Checkers on pace to make the playoffs, and he has a history of success as a GM in the Ontario Hockey League with the old Plymouth Whalers. There is, however, a Karmanos connection there, and Dundon will probably want fresh eyes overseeing everything.

Experienced candidates

The biggest name available is two-time Cup-winning GM Dean Lombardi. Lombardi helmed the Sharks from 1996 to 2003, guiding them to five playoff appearances sandwiched around two seasons outside the postseason, but never got out of the second round. He fared better in Los Angeles, where he won two Cups with the Kings (2012, 2014) and was behind the drafting of countless NHLers, including Anze Kopitar, Drew Dougthy, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Alec Martinez, to name a few. Lombardi, however, depleted the farm system with deadline deals in recent years, trading away picks and prospects for Cup runs, plus he missed big on several free agent signings before being fired after last season.

Don Maloney is another experienced option, having GM’d the Islanders in the mid-1990s and the Coyotes for nearly a decade. He made the playoffs three times with the payroll-limited Coyotes, but was let go in 2016 and now serves as a scout for Calgary.

On-the-rise candidates

Here’s where things get interesting. Two high-profile candidates are Leafs assistant GMs Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter. Even if current Toronto general manager Lou Lamoriello doesn’t return to the position at the end of his contract this season, only one of these young guys can get the job. The 32-year-old Dubas, who thrived with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds using an analytics-based approach, would seem like a perfect fit, but may be the front-runner in Toronto. Hunter, former orchestrator of the powerhouse London Knights of the OHL, could also be a prime — and hungry — candidate.

The Hurricanes have already asked permission to speak to Kings assistant GM Mike Futa, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun. Futa, however, has reportedly pulled his name from consideration.

Julien BriseBois and Paul Fenton, assistant GMs in Tampa Bay and Nashville, respectively, are also on the radar of any team looking for an up-and-comer. BriseBois is just 41 and worked for both the Canadiens and Lightning front offices. Fenton is a former teammate of Francis, playing 34 of his 411 NHL games with the Whalers, and has been David Poile’s right-hand man in Nashville since the late ’90s.

Assistant GMs Steve Greeley, in his first year with the Sabres, and Tom Fitzgerald, now with the Devils after time in the Penguins’ front office and 17 seasons as a player, have both reportedly received interest from Carolina. Dallas’ Les Jackson has been with the team since its Minnesota North Stars days, so he might be entrenched there. He is, however, highly respected and a possibility.

Off-the-board candidates

One intriguing name is NHL Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, currently an adviser with the Panthers. Pronger was the second overall pick by the Whalers in 1993, but made his mark mostly with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Anaheim, winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in 2000 with the Blues and a Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks. Forced to retire due to post-concussion syndrome, Pronger previously worked for the NHL’s Player Safety office.

Laurence Gilman, a former executive with the Canucks, has been mentioned as a possible candidate as well.

And you can never rule out Pierre McGuire, the former Whalers coach and current broadcaster who seems find his way from time to time into talk of general manager vacancies.