Ron Francis was named general manager of the Seattle NHL expansion team Thursday.
"I'm absolutely humbled to be the first GM of this franchise," Francis said. "This is going to be a fantastic opportunity. We have a blank canvas. Sure, it's a daunting task and a lot of work but it's a unique challenge that you don't get every day, because not every sports team gets to start from scratch."
Francis, 56, was GM of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-18 and worked in their front office for 12 seasons. The Hurricanes did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his four seasons as general manager. They ended a nine-season playoff drought by reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season, their first under his replacement, Don Waddell.
[RELATED: Francis timeline: From Hall of Fame player to first Seattle GM]
"Over the past weeks we interviewed so many executives and there emerges a really consistent profile of Ron Francis," Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said. "A Hall of Fame player who put in time to become that skilled executive. A guy who took the hard road to build through the [NHL Draft] … a team builder as a coach, as a player and executive."
Scheduled to begin play in the 2021-22 NHL season, Seattle was unanimously approved by the NHL Board of Governors as the League's 32nd team on Dec. 4, 2018.
Video: Ron Francis named NHL Seattle's first general manager
With two years before it begins play, Seattle had time to search for a qualified GM candidate, and ownership approved bringing in an executive early.
"That gift of an additional year will serve us well," Leiweke said. "It will give us a chance to scout and build and plan. We had to find the right person. We knew this is not a normal general manager's job."
The search began with Dave Tippett. A teammate of Francis' when they played for the Hartford Whalers, Tippett served as senior adviser with Seattle before being hired as coach of the Edmonton Oilers in May.
Francis said he consulted with his friend about the owners and staff in Seattle.
"He had some inside information with what this group wanted to do," Francis said. "He said they wanted to do things right. They wanted to be a successful franchise. They wanted to treat the players well and the staff well."
The attraction of starting with a blank canvas was a draw to Seattle for Francis, but so was working with Leiweke, who has held executive positions with the Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I think Tod and I share the same vision and passion," Francis said. "I talked to a lot of people that worked with him over the years and I couldn't get someone to say a bad word about him. One individual said that he couldn't lie if his life depended on it. Those are the kind of people I like to be around."
Seattle is expected to participate in the NHL Expansion Draft in June 2021. That draft will have the same rules as the 2017 expansion draft that stocked the roster of the Vegas Golden Knights; in their inaugural season, the Golden Knights reached the 2018 Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.
"[Francis] needs to set us up for the defining moment of the expansion draft where we will pick the team in about an hour and a half," Leiweke said. "We're going to spend a lot of money that day and we need to be ready."
Seattle will play in the New Arena at Seattle Center, formerly known as KeyArena, which is undergoing a $900 million renovation. Leiweke said last month there was no urgency to announce the team nickname or colors; Francis will have input on the nickname, expected to be revealed before the end of the year.
For now, Francis will begin to put together a hockey operations staff.
"I'm sure by the time I leave this press conference my inbox will be filled with a lot of resumes," he said.
Francis, a center who played 22 NHL seasons, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. He is fifth in League history with 1,798 points (549 goals, 1,249 assists) in 1,731 NHL games with the Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. The two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh is second in NHL history in assists, trailing Wayne Gretzky.
Photo & video courtesy: NHL Seattle