Seattle expansion

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Seattle hires Cammi Granato as NHL’s first female pro scout

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Seattle’s NHL expansion team made some history on Wednesday, as they named Cammi Granato as the league’s first female pro scout.

Granato, 48, was announced along with four other scouts, including some other familiar names: Ulf Samuelsson, Stu Barnes, Dave Hunter, and John Goodwin. This continues a standout hockey career for Granato, who captained the gold-medal winning U.S. women’s team during the 1998 Winter Olympics, and was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

This continues a small-but-promising trend of NHL teams adding diversity to their front offices. Seattle already made strides in that regard, making Alexandra Mandrycky such a prominent hire (under the title “director of hockey administration”) that they actually brought Mandrycky on board before selecting Ron Francis as GM.

“What a time in sports right now, seeing all sorts of ceilings shattered by women,” Granato told Bob Condor of the Seattle expansion team’s website. “If I can inspire someone to become a scout or work in an NHL front office, that’s amazing.”

While the first reaction is “What took so long?,” it remains a promising trend, and savvy teams stand to earn a significant competitive advantage by expanding their view to a wider range or qualified candidates. The Toronto Maple Leafs are another team that stands out in this regard with their hire of Hayley Wickenheiser back in 2018.

(The San Jose Sharks were ahead of their time in hiring Deborah Wright as a part-time amateur scout back in 1992, although it doesn’t look like that lasted long.)

It sure seems like Granato has grown up surrounded by hockey people. Her brother Tony Granato had a memorable NHL career, and is currently coaching the University of Wisconsin’s men’s team. Her husband Ray Ferraro also had a noteworthy NHL career, and now serves as a fantastic television analyst, while Cammi’s other brother Don is an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres.

“Don has been my primary mentor over the years,” Cammi Granato said, via Condor. “I feel like I can ask him anything about the game and get great advice. Of course, I talk with Tony and Ray too.”

It wouldn’t be one bit surprising if Cammi Granato served as a mentor and inspiration for other people who dream of finding a job in the NHL, even if it means blazing a new trail or shattering a ceiling or two.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What kind of GM will Ron Francis be for Seattle?

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Seattle’s NHL expansion franchise confirmed a key hire on Wednesday, naming Ron Francis as its first general manager.

The Hall of Fame center spent just under four years as Carolina Hurricanes GM, and with that, his work inspires mixed reactions. Let’s consider the good, bad, and mixed to try to get a feel for what Francis offers Seattle as its new boss.

Net losses

The Hurricanes never made the playoffs during Francis’ time as GM, and faulty goaltending was the biggest reason why. At the time, gambling on Eddie Lack and Scott Darling as replacements made some sense – though the term Darling received heightened the risks – but both gambles were epic busts.

With Alex Nedeljkovic (37th pick in 2014) still developing, it’s possible that Francis drafted a future answer in net, yet his immediate answers came up empty. Matching the luck that the Vegas Golden Knights have had with Marc-Andre Fleury seems somewhat unlikely, but Francis needs to do better with that crucial position in his second GM stint.

Building a strong young roster on a budget

It says a lot about Francis’ work in Carolina that The Athletic’s (sub. required) Dom Luszczyszyn graded the Hurricanes as the NHL’s most efficient salary structure, and apparently by a healthy margin.

Some of those great contracts were offered up by current GM Don Waddell (or Marc Bergevin’s offer sheet for Sebastian Aho), yet Francis and his crew authored some stunners. Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce boast some of the best bargain contracts in the NHL.

[RELATED: NHL Seattle tabs Ron Francis as first GM]

With a clean slate in Seattle, maybe Francis and his crew can create similar competitive advantages?

Drafting wise, the Hurricanes had some big wins under Francis, most notably stealing Aho in the second round in 2015. Still, if you’re a Hurricanes fan, maybe spare yourself the thought of Carolina getting Charlie McAvoy or Alex DeBrincat instead of Jake Bean at No. 13 in 2016, and some other gems instead of Haydn Fleury at No. 7 in 2014. Maybe Fleury and Bean are late bloomers, but it’s tough to imagine them looking like the right moves. If NHL teams truly have learned from the last expansion draft, Seattle will be more draft-dependent than Vegas has been so far, so Francis may be asked to hit homers instead of singles with key picks.

(NHL GMs make enough blunders that Seattle may still get some Jonathan Marchessault-type opportunities, though, so we’ll see.)

Investing in analytics

Whether it’s Francis or Waddell, it’s difficult to distinguish which smart Hurricanes moves stem from them, and which ones boil down to brilliant analytics work from the likes of Eric Tulsky. The thing is, if Francis listens to advice in Seattle, does it really matter?

A lot must still come together, but it’s promising that Seattle already hired a promising mind in Alexandra Mandrycky. Mandrycky was hired before Francis, so there’s a solid sign they may end up on the same page.

If your reaction is “One analytics hire, big deal,” then … well, you should be right. This list of publicly available analytics hires from Shayna Goldman argues that Seattle is off to a good start, and could leave some turtle-like teams in the dust if they keep going:

To take advantage of the expansion draft, you might need to be creative. Leaning on analytics could be key to eking out extra value.

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Ultimately, we only know so much about Francis.

While George McPhee took decades of experience into Vegas, Francis was only Hurricanes GM for a touch under four years. Such a thought softens the “no playoffs” criticism, and while some of his work was hit-or-miss, it’s crucial to realize that Francis left the Hurricanes in a generally better place than when he took over.

Will his approach work for an expansion franchise in Seattle? To some extent, it will boil down to “taking what the defense gives him,” as Francis might be able to find savvy deals like Vegas did with Marchessault and Reilly Smith, and what Francis managed himself in exploiting Chicago’s cap issues to land a star in Teravainen. It’s also worth realizing that Seattle offers different variables than Carolina did, including possibly giving Francis a bigger budget to work with.

Overall, this seems like a reasonable hire, but much like Seattle’s roster or even its team name, Francis can be filed under “to be determined.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.