Sean Leahy

NHL Seattle

Ron Francis hired as NHL Seattle’s first GM

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NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said last month during the NHL Draft in Vancouver that the group wanted to hire a general manager sooner rather than later.

Well, 226 days after the NHL awarded them a franchise that will begin play in the 2021-22 NHL season, Seattle has a GM and his name is Ron Francis.

“Announcing Ron Francis as our team’s first general manager is a dream come true,” said Leiweke in a statement. “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. In our search, we looked for someone who is smart, experienced, well-prepared and progressive. I am confident that he will maintain our commitment to excellence and ultimately guide us to a Stanley Cup.”

NHL Seattle, still working on a name and team colors, wants to follow the same blueprint that the Vegas Golden Knights did when they assembled their staff before entering the league for the 2017-18 season. This is one big step among many before they finally hit the ice as a franchise.

Francis, who will oversee player personnel, coaching staff, amateur and pro scouting, player development, analytics, sports science and AHL minor league operations, was last in NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes. He joined the organization in 2011 as director of hockey operations and three years later took on the role of GM. In March of 2018, Francis was reassigned to president of hockey operations after Tom Dundon bought the team. One month later the Hockey Hall of Famer was fired. Since January he had been working at a Raleigh commercial real estate firm.

According to the Seattle Times, which first broke the story on Tuesday night, Francis’ deal is likely in the five-year range and “midrange” in terms of salary compared to other NHL GMs.

Under Francis, the Hurricanes failed to make the the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four years. He oversaw the trade that sent longtime captain Eric Staal to the New York Rangers, as well as the deal that brought Teuvo Teravainen to Raleigh. His scouting staff helped draft the likes of Warren Foegele, Sebastian Aho, highly-touted forward Martin Necas, and Noah Hanifin, who would later be a piece to bring in Dougie Hamilton via trade. 

[MORE: What kind of GM will Ron Francis be for Seattle?]

The summer of 2017 was an interesting one for Francis. After years of tight purse strings, he finally was able to spend some money. His biggest signing that did not work out was the four years and $16.6 million given to Scott Darling to solve their problem in goal. But the one that worked and could still pay off if he decides to keep playing is bringing back Justin Williams, who has helped changed the culture around the team during this past season of success.

In a completely different environment with much different expectations, Francis has lots to prove in his second chance as an NHL GM.

It will be difficult to copy the success that the Golden Knights had in their inaugural season, and judging by how Francis ran his ship in Carolina, he’ll be about patience and not sacrificing the future for today — and he’ll probably be able to spend some money on a more consistent basis.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Convincing Hall to stay is Devil of a task for New Jersey

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After the New Jersey Devils acquired P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall texted Ray Shero a green checkmark.

”Like, ‘Check that box off,”’ Shero said. ”I guess that’s good.”

The Devils have a much longer checklist to complete to convince Hall to re-sign and not leave as a free agent next summer. There is no rush from either side on negotiating an extension for the 2018 NHL MVP, and as much offseason work as Shero has done to improve the roster, the process will likely take into next season for Hall to see if New Jersey is actually a place he wants to be for the long term.

”You want to play on the best team possible, and I’ve played nine seasons in the NHL and only won one playoff game,” Hall said. ”You want to be on a team that’s not only a playoff contender but a Stanley Cup contender every year because I only have so many more years left in this league and so many more chances to win a Stanley Cup. It hasn’t even come close yet. I kind of want to make up for lost time, but at the same time want to be smart with everything that’s going on.”

New Jersey traded for a top-pairing defenseman in Subban, won the draft lottery to select center Jack Hughes first overall and signed winger Wayne Simmonds .

”This is a team that’s (trending) up, getting better and better,” Simmonds said. ”They’ve added some pieces including myself this offseason. Obviously P.K. and Jack Hughes. There’s a lot of young talent. Definitely really excited to be part of it.”

After a disappointing season – Hall missed half of it with a knee injury and New Jersey finished third to last in the league – Shero understood the All-Star winger wanted more talent around him.

”Obviously some of the things that we’ve done prove that we want to improve the hockey team not just for Taylor Hall but for our team,” Shero said. ”My job is to obviously build the best team I can for the short and long term and also when it comes to dealing with players and relationships to sit down with them and explain to them as to what we’re doing and I want them to be aware of it.”

Shero asked Hall what he thought of Subban before making the move to get the 2013 Norris Trophy winner and got a resounding vote of confidence. Even before New Jersey signed Simmonds, Hall gave the Devils’ upgrades a thumbs up.

”I’ve always liked it in New Jersey. That’s never changed,” Hall said. ”I think it adds to the talent level, the skill level of our team, and as a player in the offseason that’s what you want to see. It’s exciting. We’re going to have more than a couple new faces next year. It’s important that we have a good start and all that stuff. Just injecting some new blood into the team is going to be really good.”

No single player is more important to the Devils’ success than Hall, who carried them into the playoffs two seasons ago with 93 points and whose injury derailed any hopes of contending in 2018-19. The 27-year-old who spent his first six NHL seasons in Edmonton doesn’t want to commit until he thinks the mix in New Jersey could be enough to win a championship.

Maybe that’s why Hall talked well before the start of the regular season about the Devils getting off to a hot start. Winning on the ice is more important than winning the offseason when it comes to Hall’s future.

”It’s a big decision for Taylor,” Shero said. ”It’s a big decision for the team here. Both sides need the information to have a real fruitful dialogue that’s meaningful, and that’s been the relationship we’ve had with Taylor since Day One, so that hasn’t changed.”

Subban said the Devils ”have to get (Hall) signed” because he’s a go-to player. Based on the $81.5 million, seven-year contract the cross-river rival New York Rangers just gave winger Artemi Panarin, it’s realistically to think Hall could command $10 million or more a season no matter where he signs.

In-depth negotiations are yet to come, even though money shouldn’t be an impediment to the Devils locking up Hall for the remainder of his prime and more.

”We’re both on the same page and both groups have been on the same page,” Shero said. ”I don’t have the crystal ball as to when or how or what the story will be, but I think we’ll know it when we get to it.”