At last the pieces are coming together. Your Seattle hockey franchise (the one still without a name) has brought it’s first General Manager into the fray.
The man behind the team that takes the ice is Mister Ron Francis.
Let’s contextualize this hire for a moment. The General Manager isn’t exactly the Queen on the hockey franchise chessboard. We regard the Queen as the most powerful piece in the game of chess, for obvious reasons.
The GM, however, is in many senses, like the Knight. He is enigmatic, shadowy, deceptively important and able to hide behind enemy lines if necessary. It is worth noting that there are times in a game of chess when the Queen is not the most valuable piece on the board despite her strength.
The Knight can be more valuable in checking your opponent. Certain gambits require the Knight’s versatility over the Queen’s dominance.
What does all of this chess talk mean, Mr. Fisher? It means, depending on how the Seattle franchise makes its personnel moves, it may have just introduced its most critical piece. It’s not the first ass-in-seats star, or a big name coach, but it’s a big hire.
How big though? We’ll see in about twenty-four months.
If you know hockey, you know the name Ron Francis. If you are new to the sport, or are a casual fan, you’re probably wondering about him.
So, here are the ten things you need to know about Ron Francis as a player, team executive and a human being.
1) Ron Francis Was A Model Of Consistency
I’m not a person that believes the player conversation begins and ends with numbers, but with Ron Francis, they are pretty hard to ignore:
- 23 Seasons in the NHL;
- 4th All-Time in Games Played at 1731;
- 2nd in Assists at 1231;
- 5th in Total Points at 1798;
- 29th in Goals at 549.
Those are wow numbers. You don’t get those just hanging around. No, you’ve got to be a good player and stay that way for a long time.
2) He Was The Greatest Player in The History Of The Hartford Whalers
With all due apologies to great guys like Dave Keon, Kevin Dineen and Mark Howe, Ron Francis was the Hartford Whalers.
Just ask Jason Lee’s character Brodie Bruce from Mallrats.
Looking at the current hockey map, you won’t find a team in Hartford. Well, don’t blame the good people of Hartford OR Ron Francis for that fact.
Between 1981 (the year he was drafted 4th overall) and 1991 when the team grudgingly traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a haul of dudes, Francis defined the team. He was captain for six seasons while breaking every single significant record in offensive statistics along the way.
The Whalers were hardly ever a decent draw with the fans. They were rarely even a decent competitive team (only making it as far as the Adams Finals in 1985-6 before losing to Les Canadiens) but #10 in green and blue was the great player on an often miserable team.
*Writer’s note, ask me about the Whaler’s stocking cap story — it’s a doozie.
#3.) Think Of Him Like Scottie Pippen
Everyone knows that NBA legend Michael Jordan failed to win an NBA championship before the Chicago Bulls went out and got him Scottie Pippen (more accurately, they stole him from the Seattle Supersonics…).
The rest was history though. His Airness won six rings in two different three-peats, largely because he had sport’s greatest Robin figure at his side.
Well, Ron Francis is a little like that.
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a decent team. Two seasons earlier they had lost to their cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, their only run in the entire God damn decade. They had The Great One, Mario Lemieux but they had not yet gotten to contender status.
On March 4th, 1991, the Pens traded for Ron Francis. They gave up a bunch of decent to good players, but the gamble paid off.
Three months later, they defeated the Minnesota North Stars for their first Stanley Cup Championship. Twelve months after that (sorry Tim) they beat the Chicago Blackhawks for their second.
Batman Lemieux had his Cup. So did Robin Francis.
4) At 39, He Captained A Bad Team To The Stanley Cup Finals
The Carolina Hurricanes are the modern/Bettman version of the Whalers. Years after dealing away their best player (and attempting to replace him with McDowells look-alikes like Rod Brind’Amour) the franchise brought Ron Francis back for what was supposed to be a swan song.
Instead, it was a run at glory.
The 2002 Carolina Hurricanes weren’t a bad team per se, they just seemed to have no chance in hell of winning in a stacked Eastern Conference.
Ron Francis at 39 years old, an age when most dudes are driving mini-vans and slowing down while passing Gap stores, led the team on a gritty run. They won every series in the Eastern bracket 4-2, beating New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto.
They weren’t going to win the Cup that year, not against Detroit, a dynastic team, one of the best of the present century. In overtime of Game One though, Ron Francis, ignoring that dour prediction, stuffed a puck in the net to stun the Joe Louis Arena crowd.
It was the only game the Hurricanes won in the series.
5) He’s Done This Before
Once Ron Francis retired, he took some time off. Good for him. Twenty-three years on skates will run a guy ragged.
We’ll have a lot more about this to come soon, but in 2011, he took a job with the Carolina Hurricanes as the Director Of Player Operations.
Three years later, he was the General Manager of the team.
6) He Is The First Hockey Player In The North Carolina Sports Hall Of Fame
Yeah, out there in NASCAR land, a Canadian boy is enshrined along side Meadowlark Lemon, Walt Bellamy, Dennis Byrd and Sonny Jurgenson.
As a note, Rod Brind’Amour is included in there too, but screw him, this article isn’t about Rod Freakin’ Brind’Amour.
Actually, Tim? Let’s make a pact never to mention Rod Brind’Amour again. He keeps sneaking up on us, it’s creepy.
7) He Is A Respected Family Man
Ron Francis and Mary Lou Robie have been married since 1986. That’s balls. Most current NHL players weren’t even born then.
They have three kids, too, which seems totally out of control. I have one and sometimes feel like I have no chance in hell of experiencing a genuine moment of pleasure ever again.
Since this is a sports blog, let’s talk about numbers.
Do you want to know the percentage chance that a marriage lasts 33 years? Try 8 percent.
8) Ron Francis Went Thirteen Years Without A Fighting Major Penalty
Don’t call the dude names, OK? To score as much as Ron Francis did, you have to be on the ice a whole hell of a lot.
But between 1991 and 2004 when he retired, Ron Francis never dropped the gloves and hit another man with his fist. At least on the ice.
To put that restraint into perspective, Sandy McCarthy playing almost the same span had 132.
9) First Player To Win The Selke & Byng Trophies In The Same Season
That wound-sucking vampire Gary Bettman hasn’t taken these traditional names away yet, but just in case they’re unfamiliar:
The Frank Selke trophy goes to best defensive forward (Rod Brind’Amour won this award, God damn stalker…).
The Lady Byng Trophy goes to the most gentlemanly player (he didn’t win this one, WHEEW).
They’re awesome trophies. I’ve seen them in person. I’ve always been in awe of the fact that these awards are real.
Well, Ron Francis won both in the same season. In 1994-5, a strike-shortened affair (fuck you, Bettman) our man brought home both awards.
It’s remarkable to even think that, in a tough game like hockey, you can be both gentlemanly and skilled on the defensive end, but our man, you know. He’s remarkable.
*As a note, Anze Kopitar did this same thing in 2016.
10) He Was A First Ballot Hall Of Famer
In 2007, Ron Michael Francis Jr., went into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens.
Rod Brind’Amour retired in 2010. So far, he has not figured out how to tag along with Ron Francis there. WHEEW.