Not every assistant general manager can say his boss has tasted his mother’s cooking.
But Ricky Olczyk, 49, announced Tuesday as the latest front-office hire by NHL Seattle, has known general manager Ron Francis on both a personal and professional level dating back years. Francis played two seasons in Pittsburgh in the late-1990s with Olczyk’s older brother, Ed, who then got into television broadcasting the following year and needed a place to stay.
“When Eddie was doing color (commentary) for Pittsburgh, I was (playing) in Carolina, so he was staying at my house that was vacant,’’ Francis said. “And then he started coaching and kind of moved in to my house during the season. And then, over the years, I got to know the Mom and Dad and then Ricky…I’ve been over to their house for dinner. Their Mom’s a heck of a cook and I put on some weight that night. But yeah, really good people.’’
In addition to Ricky Olczyk, Francis expects to hire a number of professional scouts and possibly up to three analytics specialists within the next couple of weeks to join NHL Seattle director of hockey administration Alexandra Mandrycky.
Olczyk, seven years younger than Francis, was a college hockey captain at Brown University before earning a law degree from Cornell. He worked for the NHL Players Association and ran a legal clinic before being tabbed as an assistant GM for six seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
When Francis was hired in 2014 as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, Olczyk was one of his first front-office additions in largely the same role he’ll now fill here.
“He’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades,’’ Francis said. “(Salary) cap management, collective-bargaining agreement, contracts, scouting. He can do a lot of different things. He’s got a lot of experience – he worked at the players’ association, then at Edmonton and four years with me.
“So, he’s done a lot of things, we work well together and he’ll do a lot of the same things that he did for me in Carolina.’’
Olczyk could barely contain his excitement Tuesday in discussing his new job.
“I’m high on life in general, but this just takes it to a whole other level,” he said in a phone interview. “I have the utmost respect and admiration for Ron Francis. He’s such a gentleman, just a tremendous person. He’s a tremendous hockey executive and I learned a lot. I loved working beside him.”
Olcyzk remembers the early days of being introduced to Francis when he played with his brother in Pittsburgh.
“I’d go to my brother’s games whenever I could when I wasn’t in school and doing my thing,” he said. “So, I got a chance to meet Ron during that time. And then, when I became an executive with Edmonton, he became an executive with Carolina and you’d see him at different events and we got to talk. And then when I left Edmonton and was without a job, Ron asked me to come work for him and it was a no-brainer for me, knowing him as a person like I did. I don’t regret it.”
Olczyk left the Hurricanes shortly after Francis was fired by them in the spring of 2018 and took a job as a professional scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Francis contacted Leafs GM Kyle Dubas within the last week or two and got permission to interview Olczyk before the pair hammered out a deal on Monday.
“Hopefully, we left Carolina in a better spot than when he took it over five years ago,” Olcyzk said, adding he’s excited by the prospect of helping build a Seattle team from scratch. He said Francis, in a conversation while offering him the job, tried likening it somewhat to a prior role Olczyk had as assistant GM of Team Europe ahead of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
“It’s nowhere near the scale, so I’m not comparing it in any way, shape or form, but we still had to go through similar issues,” he said. “We had to do team colors, the team logo, figure out what to do about a national anthem, choose players, choose staff, build a culture. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do under the stewardship of Ron — build a culture, build a team with character, build it from the ground up.”
Olczyk marks the third front-office hiring by NHL Seattle after Francis in late July and Mandrycky a few weeks prior. Francis said he’s likely done hiring assistant GMs for this year, though he hopes to add a half-dozen pro scouts within “the next week to 10 days’’ and possibly some additional analytics specialists to join Mandrycky.
“In talking with Alex (Mandrycky), we’re open to adding one, two or three people if they’re the right people on the analytics side. If not, then we’ll be patient, but that’s kind of what our game plan is right now.’’
Francis added that “the bulk of’’ non-coach staffing hires will come next summer, including the team’s amateur staff, head athletic trainer and head equipment manager.