If you think the most pointless thing in sports is evaluating a general manager’s decision the day after he makes it, you’re close.
Slightly more pointless is evaluating the general manager himself the day after he is hired.
On Tuesday night, news broke that Seattle’s incoming NHL team has selected Hall of Famer Ron Francis as its new GM. The eight-time All-Star joins the organization after spending four years with the Carolina Hurricanes in the same role.
Francis is the kind of hire that generates instant intrigue. He’s an all-time great with more points than all but four players to ever lace ’em up in the NHL.
But if you’re convinced he’s the guy that will turn Seattle into a flourishing franchise, you should be equally convinced that the next coin you toss will turn up heads.
Here’s what we know about Francis as an executive: In 2015, he drafted forward Sebastian Aho with the 35th overall pick and watched him develop into one of the league’s top players. The 21-year-old scored 83 points last season en route to finishing 10th in NHL MVP voting. In 2016, Francis acquired Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for a second- and third-round draft pick. Teravainen scored 76 points last season to help the Hurricanes reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.
But here’s what we also know about Francis as an executive: He didn’t get to enjoy that postseason success. After missing the playoffs in each of his four seasons pulling the strings, Francis was let go in April 2018. The Hurricanes never won more than 36 games during his tenure, nor did they finish higher than 10th in their conference.
So does this mean Seattle settled for mediocrity? Not exactly.
In Francis’ third-to-last season in Carolina, the Hurricanes had the NHL’s second-lowest payroll. In his final two seasons there, they had the lowest. True, they had the second-lowest last season when they made the playoffs without him, but Francis’ moves in prior years played a major role in that breakthrough.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to make a judgment about his front-office acumen given the lack of information. In a little time, with little money, he made the Hurricanes a little better.
That doesn’t say much as to what kind of dent Francis will make in the Emerald City. But I suppose the anticipation is half the fun.
If we’re talking about stature, team president Tod Leiweke couldn’t have done much better than Francis. If he wanted to announce to the league that Seattle is here to rumble with the big boys, luring a first-ballot Hall of Famer was his Michael Buffer moment.
Hiring an analytics geek with no playing experience wouldn’t have resonated with folks around here (although Francis does have a reputation for being open to analytics). Then again, resonating with fans in July is pretty much meaningless.
George McPhee, for instance, didn’t have the cachet of a Francis when he took over as GM of the Golden Knights three years ago. But his expansion-draft ingenuity was integral in Vegas reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first NHL season.
It isn’t fair to hold Francis to that standard when he starts building this team in Seattle, but now the whole world knows an expansion team can find early success.
There seems to be an element of panache attached to everything involving this NHL project in Seattle. You’ve got a renovated KeyArena that is expected to wow. You’ve got David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer attached as partners. And now you have one of the game’s great players in charge of building the team.
It all looks great at the moment. But this moment is irrelevant.
With the second-most assists in NHL history, Ron Francis has always been deft at finding people when he’s on the ice. Can he do it from off the ice? His reputation in Seattle depends on it.