A slew of boxes remain unchecked, with Seattle’s NHL franchise still in need of a roster, a coach, a finished arena, even a name. But the fledgling club does have one key box checked off so far after naming Hall of Famer Ron Francis the organization’s first general manager earlier this month.
The weight of that move is sure to be significant, as was seen a few years ago in Las Vegas, when the decision to call on front-office veteran George McPhee as the Golden Knights’ inaugural GM resulted in a Stanley Cup Final appearance in Year 1.
All eyes will be on Francis to replicate that success in Seattle’s debut season. And according to Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, whose organization is responsible for renovating the franchise’s arena, the club got the right man for the job.
“How do we do as well as George did? I think it was a brilliant first step to get Ron Francis,” Leiweke told Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports Thursday. “To me, the most impressive thing about Ron Francis is the ‘C.’ Everywhere he went, he wore the ‘C.’”
“I think those kinds of people, those kinds of leaders, those kinds of character, that’s what you want to build your culture around. And that’s what [Seattle] got in Ron,” Leiweke continued. “I think [they] got a man that is universally respected by everyone in the league. And a gentleman that ultimately became a quiet but fearless leader on every team he was ever on.
“A guy that won Stanley Cups. A guy that’s in the Hall of Fame.”
Francis enjoyed 23 years in the NHL before retiring from the league in 2004. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native spent 10 years with the Hartford Whalers, eight years with the Pittsburgh Penguins and six years back with his original franchise after it had relocated to Carolina — he served as captain of all three franchises at different points in his career. Francis also played 12 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs during his final year in the league.
During that run, the star pivot amassed two Stanley Cups — both with the Penguins — three Lady Byng trophies, one King Clancy Memorial Trophy and one Frank J. Selke Trophy. His 1,798 career points rank as the fifth-highest total in league history.
Following his playing career, Francis served as GM of the Hurricanes from 2014–18, during which time he laid much of the groundwork that helped spur the club’s current success, including drafting star centreman Sebastian Aho in 2015.
Listen to Leiweke’s full interview on Prime Time Sports below, as he discusses the Seattle franchise’s plans to build its business, matching the success of the Golden Knights, and Toronto Raptors’ championship run.