Takeaways: NHL Seattle introduces Ron Francis as its general manager
Ron Francis is revered in the world of hockey, but he isn’t what you would call a household name in Seattle.
After NHL Seattle introduced him as its first-ever general manager on Thursday morning, it was made clear why the Hockey Hall of Famer made such a strong impression on the higher-ups of the as-yet-unnamed franchise.
Here are three takeaways from Francis’ introductory press conference regarding his experience and how his vision fits with the NHL’s 32nd team.
His fingerprints are ‘all over’ the Hurricanes’ recent success
While Francis is best known as one of the greatest players in NHL history, ranking second all-time in assists and fifth in points, he has experience as a general manager. He spent four years as Carolina’s GM, and while the Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs during his time with the team (2014-18), they’re in good shape now. Carolina reached the NHL Eastern Conference Finals last season and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, won the Calder Cup championship.
NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said that in the franchise’s hiring process, it came through that Francis had a lot to do with the current standing of Carolina.
“His fingerprints were all over both of those rosters,” Leiweke said of the Hurricanes and Checkers. “… In Carolina he carefully laid a foundation of how to move that franchise forward, not just with the NHL but the AHL (as well). He managed a franchise that was dealing with tight budgets and below-salary cap spending in a non-traditional market. He did it by incorporating different viewpoints and decision-making and he was really one of the early adopters of analytics. Over the four years, Ron’s draft classes were renowned. He showed patience and team-building and belief in the process, and he learned the ultimate skill as a general manager of how to build a winner with less chips.”
It’s worth noting that while Francis’ contract with Carolina was terminated after four years as GM, the Hurricanes had just changed ownership at the time of his departure.
The draw of an expansion team
So why did Francis want to come to a franchise that doesn’t even have a name, let alone coaches or players?
“Honestly it just became ‘why not?’ This is just going to be a fantastic opportunity. We’ve got a blank canvas,” Francis said.
After all, how often do you get a chance to lead a team from its first steps?
“Sure, it’s a daunting task and a lot of work, but it’s a unique challenge that you don’t get every day because not every sports team starts from scratch. So I’m really excited about the challenge and looking forward to doing some good things here in Seattle,” he said. “… I’d be lying if I didn’t say (joining an expansion franchise was exciting). It’s so unique, right? Like I said, there’s not a lot of those opportunities out there.
“In talking to Tod and the owners and the vision of what they want to do for the town of Seattle and hockey fans, there’s no corners being cut. They want the best venue, the want the best team, they want the best fan experience. Even with the practice facility, right? It would have been easy to build one rink but they built three, and the reason is it provides ice for the youth in the community, go out and skate. So it’s not just about our organization, it’s about doing things (that are right) and helping to grow that product in this market.”
Seattle will be attractive to NHL players
One of the more eye-opening comments Francis made was how he thinks Seattle will be a great place to entice players to come. And if anybody would know about that, it would be Francis, who spent 23 years as a player in the NHL.
“We’re going to be active in the free-agent market. I think Seattle has so much to offer. It’s got a great quality of life,” he said. “I think we’ll be one of only six teams in the entire league that has no state income tax so that’s going to be appealing for players to want to come and play here. I think when you put everything together and people see what the ownership group and Tod want to build here, people are going to want to play here and I think that’s going to help us be successful.”
Watch full video of the full press conference here.