It was announced just the other day that former Hurricanes GM and 23-year NHL veteran Ron Francis has been tabbed as the first general manager in the history of the new Seattle franchise. The yet-to-be-named team is set to begin play during the 2021-22 season and will become the NHL’s 32nd franchise.
Francis’ playing credentials speak for themselves.
His two-decade-long career and fifth most points all-time earned him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He scored 549 goals in 1,731 games (fourth-most games played all-time) and his 1,249 assists are second to only Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963. In addition, Francis is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, three-time Lady Byng award winner, and he won the Selke as the best defensive forward in 1995.
• 23 NHL Seasons
• Hockey HOF
• 5th Most Points All Time
• 549G, 1249A
• 2X #StanleyCup Champion
• Selke Award Winner
• 3X Lady Byng Winner
As #NHLCanes GM (2014-18)
— Full Press NHL (@FPC_NHL) July 18, 2019
As for his success as a team executive, the jury is still out. In four seasons as the Hurricanes General Manager, the team compiled a record of 137-138-43 and never finished better than fifth in the division. They, of course, didn’t make the playoffs during that stretch. Last year, the first without Francis, they made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were ousted by the Boston Bruins in four games.
On top of not getting the results on the ice, the Hurricanes drafts have been lackluster under Francis, to say the least. With the obvious exception of guys like Sebastian Aho and Lucas Wallmark, the several dozen players Francis selected haven’t made much impact, if any, at the NHL level. Noah Hanifin, now with the Flames, is the only other player from the 2014 and 2015 Hurricanes draft class to accrue at least 100 NHL games.
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It’s fair to question how much of the Hurricanes mediocrity landed directly on Francis’ doorstep. However, it won’t matter once the puck officially drops in Seattle. Vegas’ immediate success made sure of that. Perhaps in the past, an expansion team may be given the benefit of the doubt during its first few years of existence. However, the Golden Knights run to the Cup Final in their first season raised the bar substantially for Seattle. Fans will expect a winner in year one.
“I think you’re always hoping you can be competitive out of the gate,” said Francis at his introductory press conference in Seattle. “That’s part of where our focus is at, and we’re going to have to really work hard in the next 23 months to make sure we’re prepared for the expansion draft. We’ll study the free-agent market and be ready for that as well.”
The Expansion Draft rules will remain the same as they did for the Golden Knights in 2017 which means Francis and the Seattle front office will be afforded the same opportunity to build an immediate contender. Back in 2017, the Golden Knight front office, led by then-GM George McPhee, navigated the draft impressively and cashed in on some opportunistic trades to help get Vegas to where they are.
On top of building the team from scratch and filling out the scouting department, Francis will have to find the right coach to lead the team. His lone hire in Carolina was Bill Peters who met the same fate as Francis following the 2017-18 season. Now, Francis will look to hire the first coach in Seattle’s franchise history. One, he hopes, will come with a bit of NHL experience.
“The one thing I’ll be looking for is experience, especially at the NHL level,” said Francis. “You’re trying to pull all these different players who have played for different lineups and never really spent time together, so you want someone who has been there and has been through it. I think experience, for sure, is an important attribute for the first coach who is hired.”
27 months seems like an eternity, however, there is no shortage of work to be done for Ron Francis. All this before a single skate blade hits the ice.
Can he handle the pressure? Will he be able to build a team from scratch? Will he hire the right coach? All these questions won’t be answered by the time the first game takes place in about 27 months. However, you can bet they will be asked a ton before that time.