Ron Francis, who played in the NHL for 22 seasons and is fifth all time in points, is to be announced this week as the first general manager of Seattle’s incoming franchise, sources with knowledge of the situation have indicated.
Francis, 56, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was a Hockey Hall of Fame captain of the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes and amassed 1,798 points. The two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins also became general manager of the Hurricanes after that franchise relocated from Hartford and remained there from April 2014 until being fired in spring of last year.
Francis will be on a multiyear deal described as midrange in terms of annual compensation compared with other NHL GMs. But it’s likely the duration matches the five-year contract Ken Holland recently signed with the Edmonton Oilers — given Francis will spend the first two years getting Seattle’s new team ready for its October 2021 launch and then have the standard three competitive seasons typically given an NHL GM on any contract.
Hampered by one of the NHL’s smallest budgets in Carolina, Francis nonetheless drafted and developed players such as star forward Sebastian Aho and also worked a trade that brought Teuvo Teravainen over from Chicago. The pair finished 1-2 in team scoring last season for the Eastern Conference finalists.
But the Hurricanes failed to reach the playoffs under Francis, and some deals, like signing goaltender Scott Darling to a four-year contact in 2017, didn’t work out.
Francis will have full say on his Seattle front-office assistants and coaches, as well as input into the team’s decision on a name — expected to come by year’s end. The coaches and assistants are unlikely to be hired right away, given the GM hiring is already coming a year before expansion teams typically fill that position.
But Francis could have his pick of a top staff, given the renowned “coaching tree’’ spawned by the mid-1980s Whalers teams he captained and his other associations with the Penguins.
Francis teamed for years in Hartford with former NHL Seattle senior adviser Dave Tippett — recently hired by Holland to serve as the Oilers’ coach. He is also a former Hartford teammate of Joel Quenneville, second on the NHL all-time victories list and now the Florida Panthers’ bench boss.
Other Hartford connections include Kevin Dineen, a former Panthers coach and Chicago Blackhawks assistant — whose late father, Bill, played for the Seattle Totems minor pro teams throughout the 1960s. Dineen was hired this week as coach of the San Diego Gulls, an AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.
During last December’s Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, Switzerland, Francis and former Whalers/Hurricanes goaltender Sean Burke served as co-GMs for runner-up Team Canada while Dineen was the coach.
Other former Whalers teammates are Ulf Samuelsson, who had been a New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks assistant, and current Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Shaw.
Current Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet teamed with Francis in Pittsburgh, as did current Penguins assistant Mark Recchi and ex-Buffalo Sabres assistant Bryan Trottier.
Francis also gave current Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters that job in Carolina despite his having no experience as a bench boss at the pro level.
NHL Seattle has had interest in Francis for some time and not merely because of Tippett’s former involvement here. Longtime NHL ironman and current Vancouver Canucks senior adviser Doug Jarvis played with Francis in Hartford and had met with NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke in Palm Springs, Calif., within the past year, partly to discuss the new team’s GM options.
But first, NHL Seattle needed permission from its ownership group to hire the GM a year earlier than expected. The urgency quickly became apparent once Steve Yzerman, Holland and Vegas Golden Knights assistant Kelly McCrimmon — all of interest to Seattle’s team — were taken off the board and Sportsnet reported the Ottawa Senators had approached Francis about their president of hockey operations vacancy.
Then, once NHL Seattle approved the extra year of GM funding needed, there was still the issue of Francis being under contract to the Hurricanes through July 1. NHL Seattle thus needed to obtain formal permission from the Hurricanes to speak to Francis and — upon receiving it — he made an early June visit here during the group’s recent ownership meetings to meet managing partner David Bonderman, minority stakeholders and tour the sites of the KeyArena renovation and planned Northgate Mall training center.
Once satisfied he was interested in the job, Francis returned to Seattle a few weeks later for a second visit and formal interviews. Meanwhile, at last month’s NHL draft in Vancouver, NHL Seattle owner Jerry Bruckheimer and Leiweke conducted at least two other GM-candidate interviews and spent the rest of their time vetting Francis with a bevy of NHL officials who have dealt with him over the years.
After the draft’s first day — satisfied Francis was their GM choice — Bruckheimer and Leiweke left Vancouver a day earlier than expected. The team’s new hockey administration director hire, Alexandra Mandrycky, was tasked with running an analytical study of past moves by Francis the week of the July 4 holiday to confirm whether his style meshed with what NHL Seattle had been looking for.
When that turned up no red flags, he was made an offer and accepted last week.
Francis had been an early candidate for the GM position dating to last summer, given his experience, connections to Tippett and prior work in assembling an analytics team with the Hurricanes — something NHL Seattle has made a priority. At the time, though, it was unclear whether Francis would be interested in Seattle’s position, given his desire to take time away from the NHL and his recent involvement in a real-estate business in North Carolina.
But the lone season away from the game proved enough for Francis and his wife, Mary Lou Robie, to leave the longtime Raleigh-area home where they raised their three children.
Francis had returned to his former Hartford organization when it relocated to North Carolina in 1997 and spent most of six seasons there. The Hurricanes traded him to Toronto, where he played the final 12 games of his career before retiring as a player in September 2005.
From there, he soon joined the Hurricanes’ front office as director of player development and then assistant GM. He became director of hockey operations in June 2011, a minority owner of the team in 2012 and GM in April 2014 when Jim Rutherford stepped down.
Francis remained GM until being reassigned to a role as president of hockey operations in March 2018 as the Hurricanes underwent an ownership change. The Hurricanes fired him a month later.
Besides being fifth all time in NHL points, Francis is also second in assists at 1,249 and fourth in games played at 1,731. He won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in 1995 and twice captured the Lady Byng Trophy as its most gentlemanly player.
Francis was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.