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Jim Rutherford to step down, with Ron Francis as new Hurricanes GM?

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Carolina Hurricanes President and GM Jim Rutherford gave Michael Smith a curious quote after signing defenseman Justin Faulk to a six-year contract extension with an average cap hit of $4.833 million.

When asked about offseason priorities, he said: "I’m really looking more at my situation and who makes those hockey decisions going forward."

Wowzer. Chip Alexander of the News & Observer later revealed the catalyst for that line of thinking: That Rutherford is going to step down from his general manager job at the end of the 2013-14 season.

From Alexander:

Sources close to the team say Rutherford may stay as team president, although that decision has not been made. It’s expected Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ vice president of hockey operations, will succeed Rutherford as general manager. That decision will be made by team owner Peter Karmanos Jr.

Rutherford has worked for Karmanos since KTR Partnership—the ownership group comprised of Peter Karmanos Jr., Thomas Thewes and Rutherford – purchased the Hartford Whalers in 1994, making him the longest tenured GM in the franchise’s history. He’s still part of the ownership group that currently owns the Hurricanes. Hence, it would be surprising not to see him still taking a paycheck in some capacity after stepping down.

Francis has been groomed for this since he was hired as director of hockey operations in June 2011. He’s now the VP of hockey operations for the team. The line of succession hasn’t exactly been a mystery in Carolina.

So it sounds like we’ll no longer have Jim Rutherford’s pimp hand to praise in the free agent frenzy, a.k.a. is uncanny ability to get players to re-sign in Carolina for affordable contracts despite having a chance to make more elsewhere.

The Canes have roughly $50 million committed in salary for next season. If Francis gets this gig, it’ll be on him to suss out what to do with a team where $27 million is tied up in four forwards, two of them named Staal.

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