PHT Morning Skate: Francis faces criticism; Franzen criticizes Babcock

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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.

• Seattle general manager Ron Francis comes under heavy criticism for his handling of the Carolina Hurricanes player abuse situation. [Seattle Times]

• Former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen opens up about his time playing for Mike Babcock, telling a Swedish newspaper outlet that Babcock is the worst person he has ever met. [Detroit Free Press]

Kyle Okposo considered retirement following his latest concussion. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is representing himself in his next round of contract negotiations. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.[ESPN]

• The case of two different Tyler Ennis‘ and a near mistaken diagnosis. [TSN]

• Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has been granted a leave of absence from the team so he can attend his father’s memorial service. [Vancouver Canucks]

• Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak continues to make the case he is the NHL’s best bargain player. [The Hockey News]

• The Montreal Canadiens placed backup goalie Keith Kinkaid on waivers. [Montreal Gazette]

• Who (and what) the Pittsburgh Penguins need to lean on to get through this tough injury stretch. [Pensburgh]

• A new app allows players to rate coaches, agents. [USA Today]

• The Philadelphia Flyers capped off a special November and entered December with their most points since the 1995-96 Eric Lindros season. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The Arizona Coyotes’ tumultuous November still produces a lot of positives. [AZ Central]

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ron Francis says he briefed Hurricanes ownership on Peters incident

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Seattle general manager Ron Francis broke his silence on Saturday and issued a brief statement regarding Bill Peters’ player abuse when they were both with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Shortly after it was revealed that Peters had repeatedly used a racial slur toward former NHL forward Akim Aliu, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan came forward and accused Peters of kicking him in the back during a game and punching another player in the back of the head.

Current Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour — who was an assistant with the team at the time — said the incidents definitely happened, and that Francis had dealt with them internally. How, exactly, they were dealt with is still unclear as then-Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos said he would have fired Peters “in a nanosecond” had he known about the incidents.

Francis said in his statement on Saturday that he did brief ownership on the situation.

Francis’ entire statement is as follows:

When I was General Manager in Carolina, after a game, a group of Players and Hockey Staff members made me aware of the physical incidents involving two Players and Bill Peters. I took this matter very seriously.

I took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.

To my knowledge, no further such incidents occurred.

It would have been inappropriate for me to comment publicly while an active investigation was being conducted by another team. I will not comment on this matter further.

Peters spent four years as the head coach of the Hurricanes, and as noted by the News & Observer‘s Luke DeCock in a scathing article on the Peters-Francis era on Saturday, had his contract extended two different times by Francis even after the abuse incidents took place.

He had been the head coach of the Calgary Flames since the start of the 2017-18 season, a position he held until he resigned on Friday.

It is entirely possible, if not likely, that his NHL career is finished.

But with Francis now in a position to build the yet-to-be-named expansion franchise in Seattle he is still going to have a lot of questions to answer on how he handled the Carolina situation, and why he handled it the way he did.

Related: Peters out as Flames head coach

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Former Hurricanes owner criticizes how Francis handled allegations against Peters

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Former Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos told the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker that then-Hurricanes GM Ron Francis didn’t tell Karamanos about physical abuse allegations Bill Peters faced (from Michal Jordan and others) during Peters’ and Jordan’s time with the Hurricanes.

Karamanos said to Baker that, if Francis had told him about such claims against Peters, Peters would have been fired in a “nanosecond.”

“I’m pretty upset,” Karamanos told Baker. “And I have my calls in to Ronnie as well. I think he’s the one who’s going to have to tell people what he did when he found out that the coach had done these things.”

If Karamanos’ claims that Francis never told him about the allegations regarding Peters are correct – Karamanos noted to Baker that Francis kept things “close to the vest” – then the chain of actions would have indeed stopped with the front office.

Current Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour backed up Jordan’s claims about multiple instances of abuse (with an anonymous other Hurricanes defenseman also being an alleged victim), with Brind’Amour stating that the incidents “for sure happened.”

Brind’Amour said that he was satisfied with whatever actions Francis & Co. took, for what it’s worth:

”Management handled it directly and never heard of it again and never saw anything else after that,” Brind’Amour told reporters on Wednesday, according to the AP. ”So it was definitely dealt with, in my opinion, correctly. … We’ve definitely moved past that.”

Whether Peters moved on or not, Karamanos provided some troubling insight to Baker about Jordan’s career path, as the 29-year-old has been playing in the KHL since the 2016-17 season.

“I never could figure out why the kid wouldn’t take the contract we had offered him,” Karmanos said of Jordan, who left to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. “He was an excellent seventh defenseman as far as I was concerned. And now I can understand why.’’

It’s haunting to consider Karamanos’ comments about Jordan in light of Akim Aliu telling TSN’s Frank Seravalli that he feels like the fallout from Peters’ alleged racist remarks “ruined my career before it started.”

Peters submitted a statement in the form of letter to Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving on Wednesday, addressing Aliu’s claims — while not mentioning Aliu by name. Peters did not address the allegations from his time with the Hurricanes, however.

At the moment, the Flames have not announced whether Peters will be fired or not, although he wasn’t on the bench for Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres.

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.

Where will Mike Babcock end up after Maple Leafs?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock on Wednesday after a terrible start to the 2019-20 season. We already know what direction the Maple Leafs are going to go in — it is Sheldon Keefe’s team now — but Babcock’s future remains unsettled.

Even though his tenure never produced the results it was expected to in Toronto, he is almost certainly going to get another head coaching job in the NHL in the not-too-distant future as long as he wants one. And given his reputation and the fact his name still carries a ton of respect among NHL teams there will probably several options for him when the time is right.

Let’s take a look at what some of those potential options could be.

It could happen, it might make sense, and it might actually work

Vancouver Canucks. Based on their roster moves the past couple of years it is easy to get the sense Canucks management believes the team is closer to winning than it might actually be, and that could put a ton of pressure on the current head coach if they don’t start producing better results. Travis Green is in his third year behind the team’s bench and while they have shown incremental improvement every year, they have hit a pretty big wall the past couple of weeks and are starting to regress back down toward the no-man’s land in the standings they’ve taken up residence in the past few years. How tempting would the opportunity to land a big-name coach be for Canucks ownership if things don’t turn around in the coming weeks and months?

While Babcock’s last two-plus years in Toronto turned into a disappointment where a change was necessary, he did help get things going in the right direction when the Maple Leafs were at a comparable stage to where the Canucks are now.

Minnesota Wild. It is a matter of when, and not if, the Wild make a coaching change. They have one of the worst records in the league, they are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row, and a new general manager is going to want his own coach. It is not a great roster, but there is still enough there that a coach like Babcock could do enough to get them to a playoff spot where they bow out in Round 1.

My goodness, this fit might actually be perfect.

It is a real long shot, but still worth considering

Seattle. He takes a couple of years off, continues to get paid by Toronto in the short-term, then becomes the first head coach of the Seattle Kraken/Sasquatch/Sockeyes/Evergreens/Whatever they might be. Given that this team is going to have the same expansion draft rules as Vegas, and with the way Vegas has become an immediate contender, expectations are going to be absurdly high for Seattle to repeat that. An established coach with a championship pedigree would also be a big splash at the beginning. The one potential problem here might be that Seattle’s new front office seems as if it is going to be heavily invested in utilizing analytics and we just saw what happens when Babcock works with a more analytically inclined front office.

He just retires. He goes nowhere. He just rides off into the sunset, makes the occasional appearance on TV as an analyst during the Stanley Cup Final or the Winter Olympics, says goodbye to coaching, and does whatever he wants to do with his free time. The competitor in him may not be ready for this, but just pretend for a second that you were 56 years old, had already accomplished all of the highest honors you could in your chosen profession (in this case a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals) and had millions of dollars sitting in the bank with many more coming your way over the next few years. Wouldn’t you at least consider retiring? Of course you would. And no one would blame you. Honestly he would probably be crazy not to consider this.

It will get suggested, but it probably shouldn’t happen

Chicago Blackhawks. I’m not saying Jeremy Colliton won’t be the solution in Chicago, and I am not even sure this would be a good fit (it probably wouldn’t), but the Blackhawks seem determined to try and squeeze everything they can out of their remaining core, and who is to say Stan Bowman’s desperation to keep that window open couldn’t lead to him at least considering a move like this?

On the other hand, if you just fired your three-time Stanley Cup winning coach, and then within a year fired his replacement only to hire another veteran coach that has been less successful than the Hall of Fame coach you already fired it might paint the picture that you don’t really know what you’re doing and don’t have much of a plan.

San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are still trying to get that elusive championship. A slow start probably put Pete DeBoer on the hot seat and would have made this sort of swap very tempting, but with their improved play of late things have probably cooled off in that regard. This also doesn’t seem like a good fit. What the Sharks need right now is a better goalie, not a better coach.

A return to Detroit: No. Don’t even think about it. Not happening. Shouldn’t happen. Time to move on.

MORE BABCOCK/LEAFS COVERAGE:
Maple Leafs fire Babcock and replace him with Keefe
Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.