With big news last night and discussion already underway here, I am going to skip the regular Thursday Coffee Shop entry and just add a few polls here (at the bottom) to go with the discussion already underway.
On Wednesday night at about 8pm or in the middle of the night session of day 2 of the ACC Tourney as it is know in these parts, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Ron Francis had been relieved of his duties as General Manager of the team.
Despite getting a late start, my aim is to cover most of the many layers of detail on this announcement.
I feel like I could write a 10-page academic paper of halfway reasonable quality on the timing of this announcement by itself. There is the public relations angle of burying this information at an odd time for a reason. There is customer relations angle of creating a diversion and/or throwing a bone on a day when there was mutiny among the core fan base about season ticket renewal emails that somehow (who approved this?) were sent out the day after arguably the worst loss of the season the night before. There is the symbolism of anything Hurricanes happening in March when the entire cadre of local media are off at the ACC tourney which ironically is being held in a northern hockey market. I think the biting irony of some of the angles of this in itself are absolutely stunning commentary on the state of Carolina Hurricanes hockey right now.
But I will steer clear of any attempt to make a deep academic exercise out of this and stick to the basics. The roughly 8pm announcement in the form of a terse press release with no media availability for Ron Francis or Tom Dundon immediately catches attention. There are multiple explanations and we might never know the rationale, but most obvious is a combination of two things. First is that the team intentionally buried it right in the middle of the ACC Tourney week because it really did not not want to talk about it and/or have it covered in any depth. Second is that there is at least a possibility that Tuesday’s debilitating 6-2 loss that pushes the 2017 to the brink of death expedited at least one of the decisions that new owner Tom Dundon has sitting before him as the team nears the offseason. Making matters even more interesting is that the announcement fell at the end of a day when the team inexplicably decided to send season ticket member renewal emails out to a group of core fans who were no doubt going to be incredibly salty about Canes hockey the day after what I termed ‘capitulation day’ that very likely ushered out any 2017-18 playoff hopes. Though the timing is interesting, the notion that the team fired a long-time hero and current general manager as a scapegoat and/or diversion to quell the social media mutiny over the renewal notices is too far-fetched to be the case.
Among the many decisions, many personnel-related, to be made by Tom Dundon in the coming months a decision on Ron Francis’ role is the one that actually makes sense for early March. With the trade deadline in the past, there is not a ton for the general manager to do right now, but what could be an eventful offseason should kick off in earnest in early April and be a sprint from there straight through mid-July. By making this move now, Dundon has the ability to openly pursue a replacement without trying to do it in stealth mode and at least potentially could have a new general manager in place before or shortly after the offseason starts.
What exactly was announced
The press release is brief and to the point, but does include a few important details. Francis was being relieved of his general manager duties but would be staying on as President of Hockey Operations. Significantly, the new general manager once named would report directly to Tom Dundon. Dundon was quoted as saying, “I felt that a change in direction is needed when it comes to hockey personnel decisions.”
I covered this fairly succinctly on Twitter shortly after the move was announced:
5/? Shift by Francis to different role is logical function of his stature with team that spans two decades and many more roles than most-recent GM. I hope it is a sincere attempt to keep Francis with the team and that it works.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 8, 2018
Personally, I vote narrowly against Francis’ demotion today, but I understand the merit for this move too. That said, I think the Carolina Hurricanes organization is better with Ron Francis than without him, and I hope that his placement in another role is a sincere attempt to keep him in the mix and that it works.
I do not make too much of the change in the organizational chart. As long as Dundon remains hands on with the team, the general manager is a role of enough importance that whoever has this title was going to be working pretty directly for Dundon regardless of titles or how lines were drawn on an org chart. I guess the move does pretty clearly cut Francis out of the chain of command in that regard, but I am not sure it is really that surprising or noteworthy.
My 2 cents on the move
At a basic level, I vote against this move, but worth noting is that this is a 55/45 thing not a 90/10 thing.
It might sound conflicted (because it is), but barring a late-season miracle, I would rate Francis’ performance specifically for the 2017-18 season as poor (my scale generally does not go below a C and I give him a C+). But at the same time, I would invest one more year in Francis with a bit of fairly firm direction added. The short version of what I wrote after the trade deadline is that I do not think Francis so much missed at the trade deadline when good deals are hard to find, but I do think he failed in the offseason in two key regards. First is that he whiffed on his choice for a goalie upgrade. Second is that he passed (probably because of cost) on addressing previous season scoring woes. So 2017-18 performance aside, two things would still have led me to bring Francis back for one more sink or swim year. First is that I think Francis’ hands were likely tied to some degree because of budget and other issues pre-ownership transition. Second is very simply because even with its flaws that have risen to the forefront, I think Francis’ methodical, rational and long-term strategic approach to building a successful team is much more right than wrong conceptually.
I would have brought him back and had him walk through a process of identifying the team’s key weaknesses for 2017-18, identifying potential alternatives to address these shortcomings, pushing him to do that and giving him some budget for it for the offseason and then grading the outcome pretty simply based on results. Some might say that this is deja vu, but I think the key difference from last summer to this summer is a shift toward making playoffs a true priority and also allocating budget and/or assets to make it a reality.
Tea leaves and the other shoe
Most interesting going forward is trying to ascertain exactly what this first move represents on a couple levels. Is this a vote for Peters over Francis? A few of Peters’ sound bites leading up to the trade deadline suggested there was at least a possibility that the two did not see eye to eye in terms of personnel. Is this more simply an individual evaluation for Francis that was addressed a bit early per my comments above because of the need to have a general manager who is a going concern in place early in the offseason? Could this be just the beginning of a broader house cleaning that possibly includes Peters and maybe key players as Dundon looks to purge and start fresh? Does it say anything about Dundon’s desire/intention to become more involved on the hockey side of the business?
We might never know all of the details of Dundon’s intentions in this direction, but the moves that follow in the coming months will at a minimum narrow the range of possibilities for the original decision to demote Francis and narrow the options for the path forward.
The need to do something to jolt the system
While I leaned toward giving Francis a bit more runway, I do see value in this move at a 50,000-foot level. As I noted on Twitter shortly after the move was announced:
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 8, 2018
At the most basic level, I think the team is broken right now. I also think that part of the path forward needed to be some kind of shock or jolt that rocks the entire system. Though there were other options to accomplish the same and a potential debated about which was the right/best way to do so, Wednesday’s move does qualify as needed jolt to the system.
An early start to what could be tumultuous offseason
Wow! Guess what could be a tumultuous offseason across the board from hockey side to business side to players to everything else just kicked off early. https://t.co/46pzdP7ut7
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 8, 2018
With an introduction that regularly used the word “impatience” and an obvious hands on approach since buying the team, the summer is set to a tumultuous one with changes in all areas of the organization. My original expectation was that the hockey operations side would most be left alone, but obviously that has been proven wrong already. I would expect more in terms of players and possibly personnel on that side of the house, but bigger than that might be what happens on the business side of the house once the season ends and there is a gap that does require staff to carry out the constant roll of day to day activities around the busy NHL schedule. If nothing else, the offseason should be an interesting one.
My biggest fear
While it is clearly a double-edged sword, one of the things I appreciate most about Ron Francis was his rational and methodical approach to building a team. I had grown increasingly concerned that Francis just did not have it in him to pull off the handful of deals needed here and there to address specific needs that are the difference between playoffs or no playoffs. The downside is perhaps lacking this all-important skill set put Francis’ ceiling as a general manager at average and limited his potential to build a true Cup contender. But at the same time, some of the craziness going on with teams right now makes me feel incredibly confident that Francis had virtually no chance of being among the worst general managers. Those slots are reserved for wheeler-dealers who are heavy on random deals and irrational player evaluations. Put another way, I had become increasingly concerned about how low Francis’ ceiling as a general manager might be, but from the exact same set of observations, I had become increasingly convinced that his floor was reasonably high.
To be clear, there are no clear indications at this time that we should be concerned, but Dundon’s move to remove Francis from the general manager role combined with his hands on involvement in many areas at least raises the possibility that Dundon will prove to be the type of owners who is too involved in some parts of the team without consideration for what his skill set and qualifications are for certain things.
All it takes for me to feel much better in this regard is for Dundon to make a solid choice for a new general manager and then back away from that part of the business. Those two actions in succession would represent a strong sign that Francis’ removal from the general manager role was very simple a personnel evaluation based on results and not at all an indication that Dundon might be angling toward a more hands on role in terms of player personnel decisions at a micro level.
I have a couple more things related to Wednesday’s big announcement but will save them for another time.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Do you agree with the move to strip Ron Francis of general manager responsibilities? What are your thoughts on Wednesday’s move?
2) What, if any, other big changes do you anticipate between now and the start of the 2018-19 season?
3) Is anyone else at least cautiously concerned about this move suggesting increased involvement by owner Tom Dundon in player personnel decisions down at the micro level?
4) Anything else on Wednesday’s big news?