Ron Francis

A weekly sports column from the 100 Mile Free Press

The unnamed NHL Seattle franchise debuting in 2021 now has a general manager.

Ron Francis was officially announced as the new boss of what will be Vancouver Canucks’ biggest geographical rival in the future.

Francis is a legend in his own right, playing for 1731 NHL games and scoring 1798 points for the Carolina Hurricanes (and when they were the Hartford Whalers), Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs (only 12 games). He was also the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-18.

While in charge, the Hurricanes failed to make it to the playoffs but he set the foundation for their 2018-19 playoff run, where they made it to the Eastern Conference final.

So is Francis the right person for the job?

He won’t likely have the same measure of success the Las Vegas Knights and George McPhee did, where they made the Stanley Cup Final in the first year of operation. Other NHL teams will be much wiser with who they protect or don’t for the Seattle Expansion Draft. Vegas made the playoffs again this season and could keep that form up until at least 2021-22 when Marc-André Fleury’s contract ends. Also, all of the high-end prospects they drafted are no longer on their books, traded to teams for top-end talents such as Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Vegas will be strong for a few years, but their future looks less certain.

Francis might steal some plays from Vegas’ expansion building playbook, but he will be looking for his own mark. After all, Francis’ philosophy while general manager of the Hurricanes was to draft and develop. They will be looking to take one lesson from Vegas though, and that’s grabbing a starting goalie right off the bat. Whether that is from the NHL or KHL (Europe’s top tier league), I don’t know but they have options.

One interesting choice could be trying to pry Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray away from their hands. The 25-year-old goalie’s contract ends the season before Seattle joins the fray. He will also be in his late 20s, meaning he will still have a ton left in the tank.

One major difference between McPhee and Francis is their trigger finger.

Since joining Vegas, McPhee has made 30 trades, a lot of them involving NHL players. On the other hand, Francis has only made 23 trades in his four seasons with the Hurricanes, most of them safe bets that wouldn’t change the trajectory of the franchise for better or worse except the trade that brought Teuvo Teräväinen to Carolina from Chicago in 2016. Chicago has yet to benefit at all from their returns.

Francis has shown that he is cautious, maybe even more so than warranted. But he has a new slate, a new budget and since it’s an expansion team, more patience from owners.

It will be very interesting to see this club develop.

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