Seattle

Ron Francis diving right in as NHL GM in Seattle

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SEATTLE — Now that he is a couple months into the job, Ron Francis has gained a little more appreciation for the task he signed up for.

The easy decision for the 56-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer would have been to take a consulting or scouting gig, keep his family settled in North Carolina and avoided the kind of challenge that may eventually define his post-playing career.

”It’s not every day you get to build something from scratch, especially in professional sports,” said Francis, the general manager of Seattle’s expansion NHL franchise. ”You’ve got a blank canvas, you have the opportunity to build it, create your own culture how you want things to run.”

Francis is in the infancy of his tenure as Seattle’s GM. He was hired in July, more than two years before Seattle will play its first NHL game. For now, Seattle’s hockey brain trust consists primarily of three people: Francis, assistant general manager Ricky Olczyk and director of hockey administration Alexandra Mandrycky. Time is the greatest commodity they have, 24 months before the yet-to-be-named franchise takes the ice for a game that counts. They know that time will disappear rapidly.

”I think for us the biggest thing is not jumping into any sort of rash decisions,” Francis said. ”We have some time, let’s make sure we look at it from all the angles and make sure we’re thorough in our approach as we build things out.”

It was a calculated move by Seattle to put together its front office so far ahead of ever playing a game. Long before a team nickname, a naming rights deal for its arena or even a coach is considered, Seattle’s ownership decided it wanted its hockey operations staff to be the first significant moves. They wanted Francis, Olczyk and Mandrycky to have as much time as needed to put together Seattle’s first roster.

That means a significant amount of time for all three at this point is gathering information. They’re building a database from scratch. Mandrycky is responsible for developing the analytics Seattle will use in its evaluations. Olczyk handles contracts and the salary cap, and will be responsible for monitoring all the player movement that is likely to take place over the next 18 months and will eventually create the player pool Seattle will pick from.

Francis is watching over it all, building out the infrastructure of the front office while also putting together who will run Seattle’s AHL franchise in Palm Springs. Francis finalized his pro scouting staff last month – including the hiring of Cammi Granato as only female pro scout currently in the league – and his schedule for the upcoming season will take him all over North America and to Europe.

”There are some surprising parts of him,” team President and CEO Tod Leiweke said. ”He’s very much an innovator, fully embracing technology. We were the first team to hire a woman to lead our analytics and he and Alex have just built this solid partnership. His recruitment and hiring or Cammi Granato; he might not have known it but he is a Seattle guy. He fits in so well with what we’re trying to do here.”

There are obstacles to overcome. While other teams have their own databases and scouting reports to draw from, Seattle is starting from scratch. The upside is being able to put it together in a system and format that fits exactly what works for Mandrycky and Francis.

”It’s nice from that perspective but then you start thinking about everything that has to be done and it’s a little bit daunting,” Mandrycky said. ”But that’s why we’re looking to hire a really good team to build that together.”

And again, there is time. Seattle is still 20 months from the expansion draft.

”What’s the most precious commodity we have right now? Time,’ Olczyk said. ”Take advantage of it.”

POWER PLAY ONLY

Enjoyable as it might be to hold an NHL record just 15 games into his professional career, Sabres forward Victor Olofsson would prefer not to be typecast as a power-play specialist.

”It’s a little mixed emotions,” said Olofsson, who is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to finally score in an even-strength situation.

The 24-year-old Swede extended the league record last week in becoming the first player to score his first eight career goals on the power play. Olofsson is now two ahead of the previous mark shared by three players.

Olofsson and Edmonton’s James Neal are tied for the NHL lead with six power-play goals, and he’s part of a Sabres power-play unit that leads the league with 11 goals through Monday.

Olofsson would like to see his production translate into 5-on-5 situations, considering he’s playing on Buffalo’s top line alongside captain Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

”Sometimes you get put in tough spots out there even on the power play and you have to solve different situations and I think I kind of learned a lot from that,” Olofsson said. ”And I can take that into my 5-on-5 game as well.”

REACHING 1,500

Patrick Marleau is in line to play his 1,500th game with San Jose on Friday when the Sharks face his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

”It’s kind of weird how things happen,” Marleau said, as the Sharks prepared to open a five-game road trip at Buffalo on Tuesday.

Marleau spent his first 19 seasons with the Sharks, before signing with Toronto in 2017. He spent two years with the Maple Leafs before being a salary-cap castoff in June, when Toronto traded him to Carolina.

He was the odd man out in the Leafs’ bid to re-sign restricted free agent Mitchell Marner, one of the players Marleau helped mentor.

”Yeah, no better person to do it for,” Marleau said with a laugh, noting he bears no hard feelings for the Maple Leafs.

The Hurricanes bought out the final year of his contract and the 40-year-old signed with San Jose on Oct. 9.

Space Needle time capsule includes NHL Seattle’s final five name choices

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Seattle NHL’s expansion franchise will have an official name sometime in 2020, but as of Monday the team is down to five choices ahead of their entry to the league for the 2021-22 season.

On Monday, a time capsule that was sealed and won’t be opened until the famed Seattle Space Needle’s 100th birthday included items such as Nirvana records, Twinkies, one share of Amazon stock, and signed baseballs from Seattle Mariners legends.

The stainless steel and aluminum capsule stands over three feet tall and weighs more than 160 pounds. It will hold over 100 items, including one hockey-related inside.

While we’ll know what the NHL Seattle franchise will be called some time next year, come April 21, 2062, when the time capsule is opened, inside will be an envelope featuring the final five options for the team’s nickname. The odds are low, but we may have a long wait to learn what choices were debated before the ownership group landed on something like Emeralds, Sockeyes, Cougars, Kraken, Rainiers, Totems, or something else.

“Every name has a nuance,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told the team’s website in August. “Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. It is important the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Those who think we are sitting on a predetermined name, nope,” Leiweke added. “We work on this every day. We are right on time with the naming process. We are still on a journey of self-identity but also on a journey to understand not just what we are but what we aren’t. Names that might have made sense a year ago, today don’t make as much sense.”

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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.

Seattle’s NHL team releases initial club ticket prices

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SEATTLE — Seattle’s expansion NHL franchise released initial pricing for club seats with details on general ticket prices coming in 2020.

The team says club seats will each cost between $285 and $355 based on a 44-game season ticket package. The club seats will be on three-, five- or seven-year terms.

The team will have 2,600 club seats in its new arena. Fans who left deposits will begin selecting seats soon.

Aside from club seats, the team said 80% of the suites in the arena have already been sold.

The team says general seats will start at $50 per game and there will be some single-game tickets starting at $20.

Seattle’s franchise is slated to begin play in the 2021-22 season.

PHT Morning Skate: Hynes on hot seat; Marner’s slow start

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• John Hynes may already be on the hot seat in New Jersey. (NJ.com)

• The Devils have to find out why they’ve blown multiple huge leads early this season. (Trentonian)

• The NHL’s shot location data has changed and nobody understands why. (On the Forecheck)

• Rangers David Quinn has made some interesting decisions when it comes to player deployment. (Elite Sports NY)

• The Capitals still don’t know when Michal Kempny will be back in their lineup. (NBC Sports Washington)

• It’s hard to predict which version of the Winnipeg Jets will show up every night. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Blue Jackets defensemen are having success in the offensive zone. (1st Ohio Battery)

• The Calgary Flames are helping fund YMCA memberships for young students. (Calgary Herald)

• Stanley Cup champion Danny Grant has died at the age of 73. (CBC)

• There’s a late push to get Seattle Metropolitans star Bernie Morris into the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Seattle Times)

• Here’s the touching story about, Lera, who is now the Anaheim Ducks’ 21st player. From birth defects to being put up for adoption in Russia, her story of perseverance is remarkable. (The Score)

• Check out the latest 2020 Draft prospect report topped by Alexis Lafreniere. (Rotoworld)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

AHL awards expansion franchise to Palm Springs

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Professional hockey is coming to the Southern California desert.

The minor league American Hockey League has awarded an expansion franchise to NHL Seattle that will play at a new arena on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in downtown Palm Springs.

The $250 million project announced Monday will break ground in early 2020 and will open in fall 2021.

The AHL’s 32nd team will be the primary development affiliate of NHL Seattle. Both the Seattle NHL team and its AHL franchise will begin play in October 2021.

Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group which owns the Seattle NHL franchise, says the new arena will host sports and music events. It will seat 10,000.

AHL Palm Springs launched season ticket sales Monday.

Palm Springs will be the sixth California team in the AHL, joining Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose and Stockton.