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Francis takes skill, savvy to front office

by Dan Rosen

Another month, another Hall of Famer.

That’s how lucky we are here at Last month, we stole 20 minutes from Mark Messier for an exclusive Q&A, and this month we got Carolina Hurricanes front-office big-wig Ron Francis on the line for another question-and-answer session.

Francis is entering his second full season as the Hurricanes’ assistant general manager and director of player development. The fourth all-time leading scorer in NHL history was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year as part of a legendary class that also included Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Jim Gregory.

We got Francis to touch on various topics, including his role with the club, his future, what it was like leading up to his induction weekend, and the Hurricanes chances of returning to the playoffs in 2009 after two straight dark springs in Raleigh.

Read and enjoy: Is your role in the Hurricanes’ front office unfolding as you expected it would have?

Ron Francis: "Last year was a little bit unique being my first year and with the amount of injuries we had both up top and in Albany (of the AHL). We ended up using 40 players in Carolina and 65 players in Albany. I don’t think I saw it unfolding quite like that my first year, but the job has lived up to my expectation so far." What is the biggest surprise you have encountered so far?

RF: “Probably just all the different things that go into it. From a player’s standpoint, you are focused on conditioning and getting ready to go, and when the season starts, it’s about games and practices. On this side, you get everything that goes into it, from ticket sales to marketing to drafting to player development. There are so many facets to the job. As (Hurricanes GM) Jim Rutherford told me last year when we were going through all those injuries, ‘It’s not always like this, but it’s always something and you never know what it’s going to be.’ That’s been bang on.” What is the biggest challenge for you in this role?

RF: “On the player development side, you are trying to get to know the kids you have drafted in the system, watch their games and find out areas where you can help them with advice on conditioning or diets, areas that will make them better. On the assistant GM side, you’re learning the big thick book they call the CBA. You have to know that and pay attention to that. As a player, I went through a lot of negotiations, but it’s different on this side with multiple agents and multiple players. The one thing is it’s never dull.” Seeing as it hasn’t even been a year since your Hall of Fame induction, if you could give advice to the four guys going into the Hall of Fame in November (Ed Chynoweth is going in posthumously), what would you tell them?

RF: “Just to enjoy it. Leading up to it there are a lot of things you’re looking at. You’re trying to get your speech down pat. You want to make sure you don’t forget anybody, so you’re worried about that. When I got there, the first night the Hockey Hall of Fame had a cocktail reception. I walked into that room and there were a lot of former players who are now members all there. That’s when it hit me. Throughout the weekend, it was tremendous. There were enough events that were special and made the weekend, but there was enough time that you had to enjoy the weekend with friends and family that came to be with you. It isn’t that it’s about you. It’s how they do the whole weekend and everything that is associated with it. I really would just tell them to take time to enjoy it.”


Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 92
(9th east/16th NHL)
Change from 2006-07 +4
Home Points 52
(4th east/8th NHL)
Away Points 40
(10th east/22ND NHL) What do you think is the greatest challenge for the NHL today?

RF: “Oh, well, I think the on-ice portion has made some great strides in opening up the game since the lockout season. I have always felt going way back that our League has the best players not only from North America, but from the world. To allow these guys to show off their talents and display what they can do on thin blades with the puck, and force other players in the League to emulate them and elevate their level will make our game better. I have never been a fan of allowing the other players to pull down the more skilled guys, and in the last few years the game has gotten faster and there are plays that people are just shaking their heads at. On the other side, the challenge will always be keeping that financial balance. The players deserve to make a good living at what they do and the franchises and owners deserve to make money for their investment and risk. You have to find that happy medium and do it so you’re not alienating the fans at the same time.” You mentioned ‘the best players not only from North America, but from the world.’ I’m curious as to what you think of the new Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, or do you know enough about it to even comment?

RF: “I have never been to Russia in my life so it’s hard to talk about it, but there are certainly players going over there and playing. Any time there are other options for players it’s better for them and at some point people might consider it a threat for the NHL, but people look at the NHL and the talent that is here and nobody is going to argue that it still the best place to play if you are a hockey player.” Is it your intention to become a GM or perhaps an NHL coach one day?

RF: “I get asked that a lot and I’m sincere when I say I’m just taking it a day at a time. I’m comfortable in the role I’m doing here. I’m fortunate and glad to be working with a guy like Jim Rutherford, who has experience and has been through this for a while. I am just enjoying doing what I’m doing. I have really not looked down the road. I have said that in three to five years I’ll either still be in this role, or I’ll be in retirement all over again.” Have you ever had the goal to coach in the NHL?

RF: “I always said no, but I should never say never. It’s not an area I wanted to go into and at this point I don’t think I have changed at this point on my thoughts, but I should never say never.” It’s been two straight seasons now that the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs. What has to change this season for the team to get back?

RF: “I think there is so much parity in the League now and it’s so tough to get from October to April and accomplish what you want to do. We got off to a tremendous start last year and we struggled through November, December and half of January. That is ultimately what cost us, but along the way we also lost Rod Brind’Amour, Justin Williams, Chad LaRose, Matt Cullen and numerous other guys. We used 40 different guys on the roster last year and it came down to losing the last game of the season to miss the playoffs. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and anything short of that is not successful. We feel we got better on the blue line, where we needed to get better. And, we have enough firepower up front to score goals and our goaltending is good. At least on paper we’re comfortable where we’re at.” People want to know if Brandon Sutter is going to make the team. Do you think he will?

RF: “I think he can do it. Whether he does or not, we’ll have to see that at training camp. He is an exceptionally smart player. His hockey sense is tremendous and he’s played at some pretty high levels at the World Junior Championship and in the Canada-Russia series last year, which was pretty unique. He stepped into Albany after his junior season was done and looked like he had been there all year. He worked hard to put some muscle on. He’s up in the 180s. We think he’s big enough. He’s gotten strong enough. We think he’s ready.” Finally, it’s amazing to some people, but the young hockey fans today view you as an old-timer. Do you think you could still play in the NHL at 45 years old? If Chris Chelios can, why can’t you?

RF: “I’m probably at least six to eight months of two- or three-a-days away. I’m very content watching the young guys. My hat's off to Chris Chelios for doing what he does. For a guy that played against him, it’s great to see him out there competing and still having success. I can’t right now, and I have no desire to.”

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