As a player, Ron Francis had everything.
More skill than most, a ton of heart, a mountain of character, oodles of class, two Stanley Cups… You look up "hockey captain" on Wikipedia and there should be a picture of the Hall of Famer staring back at you.
As a general manager?
As the great Gord Downie sang, "Nobody cares about something you didn’t do."
After a humble debut in the manager’s chair in Carolina from 2014-18, Francis was named the first ever GM of Seattle’s incoming National Hockey League franchise on Thursday. It’s his chance to prove what he’s got as a manager, and Francis will have a budget that he never had in Carolina.
But he’ll also be greeted by 31 general managers who are much wiser, after many of them were hoodwinked by George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights when they raided NHL rosters a couple of years ago.
"Twelve seasons working in player development, coaching, scouting and management have led me to this moment and this role," Francis, 56, said in a release.
The knock on Francis in Carolina concerned his patience. He didn’t dive into the trade market, or the free agent market, fast or often enough for his critics. Of course, looking at the Hurricanes roster that he left behind may silence those people.
"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 at his introductory press conference. "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 (Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke) want to build here, people are going to want to play here and I think that’s going to help us be successful."
Seattle filed this job a year ahead of the original plans by the team, a sign of commitment by the NHL’s 32nd franchise. There is money here, with an ownership group fronted by investment banker David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
The KeyArena is currently undergoing a $930 million renovation, and they’re building a practice rink that Francis will be asked to weigh in on, design-wise.
"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," Francis said. "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. 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."
Hockey history is rife with former great players who thought they could coach or manager, and it turned out they were exactly that: great players. Francis started something in Carolina under some come serious financial constraints but could not see eye to eye with new owner Tom Dundon, who is the furthest thing from a hockey traditionalist.
In Seattle he’s in a hockey market with hockey people, and he has a budget that should allow Seattle to have an immediate impact in the Pacific Division.
"Announcing Ron Francis as our team’s first general manager is a dream come true," Leiweke said in a release. "He is truly hockey royalty and is the perfect fit for the team we are building. He has a proven track record in hockey management, a dedication to the community and an eagerness to innovate which fits our vision."
He won’t find the fertile field that Vegas had in their expansion draft. But Francis never required anything to be easy for him to succeed — as a player.
Now we see if he can translate that to the front office in Seattle.