Ron Francis spoke at a conference in downtown Toronto this week a few blocks from where NHL general managers were holding one of their annual meetings.
The GM on the league’s 32nd franchise in Seattle, Francis won’t be welcomed into the room until ownership makes its final expansion payment in the spring of 2021.
That’s probably just as well. He’s got plenty on his plate already.
Francis was hired in July and currently has a skeleton staff as he works to build everything from a scouting department, databases and an expansion draft board.
The Hall of Fame centre is also involved in meetings on suite and ticket sales, marketing and community events, and arena construction with NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke.
“When you look at it, it’s kind of daunting,” Francis said at the Primetime sports management conference. “But it’s a very rewarding feeling to go through the process.”
Francis has six professional scouts at the moment, including former U.S. women’s star Cammi Granato, and spends about a week every month in the Pacific Northwest.
The rest of the time he’s on the road laying the foundation for a team that’s set to begin play in the fall of 2021.
The 56-year-old is also setting up Seattle’s analytics team and joked the hiring of Ricky Olczyk in September as his assistant GM was a big day because it increased the hockey operations staff by 50 per cent.
“The beauty of the clean slate is you have nothing,” said Francis, who wants amateur scouts in place by next summer. “Where (other) NHL teams have data for probably the last five or 10 years on players, we have nothing. We’re trying to build all that stuff.”
GM of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014 to 2018, Francis doesn’t expect to name a head coach until 2021, but added the team hopes to unveil its name and logo sometime in the first half of next year.
“We’re getting close,” he added. “But there’s also the process of going through and making sure it’s trademarked correctly so there’s not any issues.”
And because of the intense interest in the team, Francis said Seattle might forgo a traditional season-ticket structure and instead offer smaller mini-pack options to get as many people as possible into its downtown arena.
“The league said you’ve got six weeks to get 10,000 season-ticket deposits and they did that in 12 minutes,” Francis said of the initial drive. “We got 25,000 in the first hour (and) 32,000 the first day. It’s my understanding there’s another list of 30,000 that want to get on that list of 32,000.
“(Leiweke) and his staff are looking at a lot of different ways to make as many people happy as possible.”
Francis knows that fairly or unfairly, Seattle will be compared to the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the league in 2017 and made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup final in their first season.
“We’re worried about Seattle and what we’re trying to build and how we’re trying to build our organization, not just for Year 1, but for the long-term,” Francis said. “It’s important to do what’s right for our ownership group, our fanbase and the city.”
He’s had conversations with George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon — the Vegas braintrust — about their experience, but also knows things will be different this time around.
The Knights played other GMs off each other and against themselves ahead of the expansion draft, the NHL’s first since 2000, to accumulate a boatload of draft picks and assets.
“George and Kelly did an absolutely incredible job,” Francis said. “That’s not the norm.
“But we’ll certainly try and do everything we can to replicate what they did.”
Driven Draisaitl, McDavid Music
Oilers stars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid lead the NHL with 44 and 43 points, respectively. Draisaitl has registered an astounding 28 points over Edmonton’s last 13 contests, while McDavid has 16 points during a red-hot five-game stretch. Their combined 77 points are 13 more than the 64 produced by the other 10 forwards on the Oilers’ roster.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau sit tied seventh in league scoring with 28 points in 21 games — the same number Draisaitl has in his last 13 for Edmonton (14-6-3), which sits first in the Pacific Division and is tied with St. Louis atop the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs, Flames and Canucks are in the middle of tough stretches. Toronto has dropped six in a row (0-5-1), Calgary is without a victory in five (0-4-1) and Vancouver has lost seven of its last eight (1-5-2). The Leafs are two points adrift of the second wild-card berth in the East, while the Flames are one back of the Canucks for the same spot in the West.
Chayka Happy with Kessel
Speaking of the Leafs, former Toronto sniper Phil Kessel has just three goals in 22 games with Arizona since his off-season acquisition from Pittsburgh. But Coyotes general manager John Chayka has been pleased with the six-time 30-goal man’s contributions in the desert, even if it hasn’t translated to the scoresheet. “For the most part, he’s been really good at generating offence,” Chayka said. “He’s been able to break us out of some slumps.”
New York State of Mind
The Islanders extended their point streak to 15 games (14-0-1) and tie a franchise record with Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime victory in Pittsburgh. New York went 12-0-3 in 1978-79 and 13-0-2 in 1981-82. The Islanders will look to surpass that mark Thursday when they host the Penguins.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press