On July 18, 2019, it became official; NHL Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis will be the first general manager of the Seattle NHL expansion team. The Seattle NHL Team still doesn’t have a name and won’t enter the league until the 2021-22 season, but it now has a general manager to start putting the pieces into place.
Having an all-time hockey great like Francis as the face of a new franchise isn’t a bad move from a PR perspective. Here’s a look at his resume as both a player and a general manager.
Ron Francis is one of the greatest players of all time
Originally drafted with the fourth overall pick by the Hartford Whalers in the 1981 NHL Draft, Ron Francis would go on to play 22 seasons in the NHL across three franchises in the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Carolina Hurricanes. He also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in his final season as he was traded by Carolina at the trade deadline.
Over the course of his long career, Francis compiled 549 regular season goals (ranked 28th all-time), 1,249 assists (ranked 2nd all-time) and 1,798 points (ranked 5th all-time). He also ranks 4th all-time in regular season games played with 1,731. Francis won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, leading the team in assists with 19 during the ‘92 Cup run.
Ron Francis was considered a leader and a class act throughout his entire playing career. He served as team captain at one point on all three teams he played for and was a three-time Lady Bing Trophy winner. The Lady Bing is awarded annually to the player who exhibited the best sportsmanship in the league.
But he’s tough to grade as a general manager
Francis moved into a front office role with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011 when he was named director of hockey operations. In 2014, he took over as the team’s general manager.
From 2014 through 2018, the Hurricanes were mostly stagnant. Carolina went 30-41-11 in Francis’s first year in the role, and after that, the Hurricanes went 35-31-16 in 2015-16, 36-31-15 in 2016-17, and 36-35-11 in 2017-18. When a new ownership group took over the team in 2016, Ron Francis was let go.
Unfortunately, this stint doesn’t tell us much. Before Thomas Dundon bought the Hurricanes, this was a small-market team on a tight budget. The team’s unwillingness to spend up to the salary cap hindered Francis from making many significant moves. The 56-year-old isn’t likely going to run into the same problems in Seattle, where the ownership group seems to be committed to winning long-term.
The Vegas Golden Knights have set a high bar
The Vegas Golden Knights flipped the script on what an expansion team could be when they entered the league in 2017-18. Going off as 200-to-1 underdogs at the start of the season, the Knights won the Pacific Division with a record of 51-24-7 and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will follow the same rules that the Vegas Golden Knights one did. With the same level of talent expected to be available to Seattle and the bar set so high by the Golden Knights, the pressure will be on Ron Francis to build a contender right out of the gate.