Seattle’s New N.H.L. Team Chooses Ron Francis as G.M.

Seattle’s New N.H.L. Team Chooses Ron Francis as G.M.

July 19, 2019

SEATTLE — Ron Francis has all kinds of eye-popping statistics attached to his Hall of Fame career. He averaged more than point a game, is second in N.H.L. history in assists behind Wayne Gretzky and fifth in career points.

When chief executive Tod Leiweke and the ownership group of the Seattle N.H.L. expansion team looked at his playing résumé, though, they were most impressed by another statistic: Francis was voted captain by three teams for 14 of his 23 years, first earning the role at age 21.

That leadership ability spurred them to hire Francis on Thursday as general manager of the yet-to-be-named team — well ahead of their schedule.

“Ownership made an incredible commitment in supporting this idea of let’s do this a year early,” Leiweke said. “If we’re really here working for our fans, let’s reward their belief. They said we’re willing to make this commitment a year early. We’re willing to bring on a general manager earlier than any other expansion team in the history of the N.H.L., and that gift of an additional year will serve us well and give us a chance to scout and build and plan. But we had to find the right person.”

Francis, 56, will have complete control of building the organization under Leiweke. He said he’s already drawn up an organizational chart that will guide hiring as the team prepares to open play in 2021 as the N.H.L.’s 32nd franchise.

And he’s already started daydreaming about how his team will look.

“I think if you look at my past experience, it’s a team that’s fast,” Francis said. “I think it’s a team that needs to have skill and hockey sense. I like a team that’s extremely competitive. And for me I think you need a team that has character. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going well. When things get a little bit tough, that’s when character rises to the top and pulls you through those tough times.”

Jaromir Jagr, a teammate on the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, called Francis perhaps the most underrated player in N.H.L. history. After starting his career as the No. 4 overall pick in the 1981 draft for the Hartford Whalers, Francis played for the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs before returning to the Whalers in 1998 after they moved to Carolina.

He guided that Hurricanes team to the N.H.L. finals before retiring. He joined the team’s front office and worked through a number of jobs under the Hall of Fame G.M. Jim Rutherford. Francis was promoted to general manager in 2014 when Rutherford left for Pittsburgh and held that position until an ownership change in 2018.

Francis said he was depressed after leaving the Hurricanes, but found his drive again while working at the Spengler Cup and with Hockey Canada during the world championships.

“Getting around the N.H.L. players again, the N.H.L. coaches and stuff, the passion started burning again and I thought, ‘O.K. this is really where I want to be,’” Francis said. “And when Tod called, I looked at the opportunity and said, ‘What a great chance.’ We get to build it from the ground up. We get to establish our culture and how we want to do it. I think it’s a unique opportunity. It doesn’t happen every day.”

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