If I were one of the executives hiring Ron Francis as the first general manager of the Seattle Whatevers — and I’m still all-in on the “Sasquatch” or “Kraken,” for the record — my first question would have been a simple one:
“How much of that was your fault?”
Under Francis, the Carolina Hurricanes had a record of 137-138-53 with Bill Peters behind the bench, the only coach Francis had the chance to hire in his four seasons as general manager. They were an aggressively average team, a source of constant befuddlement for the analytics community:
How could a team that was third in the NHL in expected goals at five-on-five during that stretch end up 26th in goals per 60 minutes (2.07)? How could a team that had the second-best percentage of shot attempts in the league (52.45%) during that time frame, behind only the Los Angeles Kings, fail to make the playoffs in all four seasons with Francis as GM? To put things in perspective: Six of the top seven teams in Corsi percentage during that stretch didn’t just make the playoffs with frequency, they all played for the Stanley Cup since 2013.
How much of that was his fault?
Part of the problem was a lack of finishers on the roster. Francis, notably, made few player-for-player trades that forcefully improved his team’s scoring. He made 24 trades in total while GM of the Hurricanes. The most beneficial one, by far, was when he acquired forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell from a cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks team in 2016. But the glut of the deals he made involved shipping out talent from Raleigh, rather than bringing some back. Part of that was his untangling of the cap mess Jim Rutherford left behind when he moved up and then out to Pittsburgh. Part of that was being a constant deadline seller.
How much of that was his fault?
The solutions didn’t arrive at the draft table, either. The first-rounders his team selected:
In total, Francis oversaw 33 draft picks from 2014 to 2018, and 11 of them made the NHL. Yes, among the 11 were Sebastian Aho, an incredible find at No. 35 overall in 2015, and Lucas Wallmark, at No. 97 overall in 2014. But there were more whiffs than hits.
How much of that was his fault?
Ron Francis is a respected guy in the NHL, but as you can see, one who doesn’t exactly have a record to run on. His hiring by Seattle already has met with some criticism — “Hall of Fame player, yes. Hall of Fame GM, don’t know about that,” for example — because of the aftertaste from his job in Carolina.
Look, no matter how much Listerine one gargles, it’s hard to get rid of the rancidness of four losing seasons or seeing Scott Darling as his solution in goal — a devastating story on a personal level, but an undeniable managerial misstep in handing the crease to an unproven commodity on a four-year deal with trade protection. He bet big, and lost, and that signing came to define Francis’ tenure in Raleigh.
But if I’m a Seattle executive and I asked Ron Francis how much the rest of this was his fault, I might have heard this response: “Not as much as you’d think.”
Where I think he can take the blame was at the draft table. Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ recently retired director of amateur scouting, ultimately made the majority of the picks, but Francis let it be known what kinds of players he was looking for and exerted influence. There’s an All-Star team of offensive talent that the Hurricanes left on the board while selecting defensemen with their first picks in three straight seasons. Now with an expansion franchise that should have a plethora of picks, Francis can’t oversee that many missed opportunities, especially in the lottery.
Otherwise, Francis did a solid job managing his cap. He made some nice, small moves, but without aggressive moves to get over the hump. The perception is that he lacked the audacity to make those moves; the reality is that he wasn’t afraid to take risks, but rather never had the money to spend to take them during the majority of his tenure with Carolina. Playmaking centers cost money. Goal-scoring wingers cost money. Even with the trade assets the Hurricanes had, it was difficult to add that kind of payroll. And that financial reality certainly extended to the free-agent pool.
Money is not going to be an issue for Seattle. I’ve had multiple members of the NHL Board of Governors tell me they expect Seattle will be a top-10 revenue team. I think Seattle will resemble the Vegas Golden Knights in that regard: Money won’t be an issue in trying to attract or retain talent. This certainly will be a new flex for him as a general manager.
Vegas, of course, has set completely unreal expectations for Seattle, which isn’t going to have the same ancillary catalysts for success off the ice that the Knights had, nor, one assumes, the abject stupidity of other GMs overplaying their expansion draft hands on which to prey. But Seattle will have a roster that, like the Golden Knights’, will be a cut above the expansion team dreck we used to witness. And Seattle should have a quality coaching pool, as Gerard Gallant’s Jack Adams Award for Vegas no doubt encourages.
For my money, Seattle has a terrific general manager now too. I’ve been waiting for a second act for Ronnie Franchise after the education he received with Carolina. Were mistakes made? Totally. Were the four years without a playoff berth his fault? Partially.
Is this a general manager I’d like to see paint on a clean canvas, with a palette that’s not restricted in its spectrum? Completely.
The Week In Gritty
I’m not predisposed to doubt the veracity of Gritty’s news items, but I have some concerns that this may not, in fact, be Area 51, a.k.a. where “them aliens” are kept by the U.S. government.
Let’s see them aliens. pic.twitter.com/KFEpuf7Awk
– Gritty (@GrittyNHL) July 17, 2019
Although it is logical that this bastion of experimental aircraft would have Flyers banners up, one imagines.
Would you let your child touch the Stanley Cup?
The summer provides a great opportunity for frivolous debates about Stanley Cup celebration etiquette. Like, for example, blowing a gasket because someone let their dog eat out of a bowl that a horse has eaten from, that a baby has defecated into and that Alex Ovechkin … well, we’ll just assume he did something to the Stanley Cup that we’d rather not discuss here.
So, furthering the frivolity: If you were an NHL player, knowing that you’ve passed your hockey-proficient DNA on to your children, would you let them touch the Stanley Cup knowing what that connotes?
– St. Louis Blues �� (@StLouisBlues) July 14, 2019
For the uninformed, the superstition goes that no player should touch the Stanley Cup before their team has won it. What happens if one does? The Hockey Gods allegedly will frown upon you, place some sort of hex on thee and you will never win the Cup.
Personally, I was on team “never let your child touch the Cup” until I heard that T.J. Oshie admitted he touched the chalice as a teen before winning it last year with the Capitals.
“My dad told me not to touch it, he said it was a bad omen,” Oshie said, via Russian Machine Never Breaks. “So I put my hand behind it and sure enough, the photographer made me put my hand on the side of it. I only touched it for maybe a millisecond, I pulled my hand back off it and told him I wasn’t allowed to do that.
“So I don’t know if that counts or not. If it does, then it might not be a curse because obviously we did something pretty special last year and got to hold it over our heads.”
Granted, it could be that a millisecond isn’t enough to anger the Hockey Gods. Or it could be that all of our superstitions and concerns about decorum for the Stanley Cup are absolute rubbish.
William Nylander recently made news by announcing that he’s switching from No. 29 with the Toronto Maple Leafs to No. 88. And by “news” we of course mean “managed to spark widespread criticism of his actions by petty Leafs fans desperate to be mad online in the middle of July, to the point where they would defend the sanctity of Eric Lindros‘ stint in Toronto as a counterpoint.”
Making the switch … what’s old is new again #88
I’ve got you covered Leafs Nation, go to @realsportstoronto to have your jersey recrested on me. pic.twitter.com/gQWHZVxQMo
– William Nylander (@wmnylander) July 15, 2019
Anyway, we’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about the Jersey Foul ramifications of this switch. Obviously, it’s not a Foul if you continue to wear No. 29 on a Leafs jersey, nor is it a Foul to get that jersey refitted with No. 88 per Mr. Nylander’s instructions. It is a Foul, however, to get No. 88 on a 2018 Stadium Series jersey, since Nylander did not wear the number for that game. So hopefully that clears that up.
OK, so go to China
Interesting interview on CNBC recently featuring Scott O’Neil, the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the New Jersey Devils, in which he talked about the potential for hockey to overtake basketball in popularity — in China.
“The key, I think for hockey, just like it is in the NBA … is just the sense that we have to bring the game here,” he said. “And then we have to do a much better job on our terms of creating content, so that the incredible fans of China can see and experience these incredible athletes as people.”
The Winter Olympics are in Beijing in 2022. The NHL’s participation in the Games remains a thorny issue, highly dependent on what the IOC is willing to share with the league with regard to brand visibility and revenue-sharing opportunities. But when you hear a hockey team executive talk about the opportunity for growth in China — O’Neil said that “this will be an incredible hockey market” — the more it becomes obvious that the NHL has to return to the Olympics for Beijing.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
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Are the Hockey Hall of Fame’s standards slipping? “The Hockey Hall of Fame has a lot of biases in what it looks for in players.”
Another voice asking for the NWHL to fold for the betterment of women’s hockey.
Banging the drum for a Josh Ho-Sang trade. “At this point, if the Islanders have no intention of using him in the lineup and are going to get anything of value for Ho-Sang, it’s time for him to be moved along.”
There’s a movement afoot to get Willie O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal.
The Flames are good. Their goaltending isn’t.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Dom Luszczyszyn’s look at the “contract efficiency” of NHL teams is pretty interesting, if a little specious in places. Like in Washington, where Nicklas Backstrom‘s contract earns a B. And like in Minnesota, where the grades are higher than one might expect. ($)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN