OUTSTANDING CAREER ENDS FOR THE UNDERRATED FRANCIS

“The newsobserver.com reports that if Ron Francis wants to return for a 24th NHL season, it won’t be with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford told Francis on Tuesday the Canes are not interested in bringing the 41-year-old center and future Hall of Famer back as a player, offering him a position in the front office instead.
“As an organization, we’ve talked about going in a different direction with making our team younger,” Rutherford said. “To talk to the player directly, it’s never totally easy, but the fact that we’d like him to stay in organization, that made it a little bit easier.”

Francis, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, has yet to decide whether to continue playing, a decision complicated by the possibility of a lockout due to labor strife between the league and the players’ union.

He is third in career games played, 37 behind Gordie Howe and 25 behind Mark Messier, who like Francis has yet to decide if he’ll continue playing. Francis’ record-tying streak of 22 consecutive 50-point seasons ended last season when he had a career-low 40 points.

On Tuesday, in a meeting with Rutherford and assistant general manager Jason Karmanos, Francis was offered the position of director of player development. Rutherford said the job would entail working with prospects and assessing potential trade targets.

“This is a time where it’s really time for him to take his time, to consider all his options and what he wants to do,” Rutherford said. “I certainly didn’t expect an answer today. We wanted to clarify what we would like him to do with the organization.”

Francis, who is second all-time in assists (1,249), fourth in points (549) and third in games played (1,731), spent 16 seasons with the Carolina franchise in two separate stints before he accepted a trade to Toronto at the March deadline. He remains the Carolina/Hartford Whalers franchise leader in games (1,186), goals (382), assists (793), points (1,175), hat tricks (9) and power-play goals (132).

Originally drafted fourth overall by the Whalers in 1981, Francis was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, winning the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. He rejoined the franchise in North Carolina as a free agent in 1998, leading the Canes to the playoffs in 1999 and 2001 and the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, winning his third Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly play and King Clancy Trophy for community service. In 1995, he won the Selke Trophy awarded to the NHL’s best defensive forward.

Francis’ production dropped off precipitously last season to 13 goals and 27 assists, and at one point in November he found himself playing sparingly on the fourth line. He insisted he did not want to be traded but accepted the trade to Toronto only hours before the March 9 deadline to the shock of Carolina fans.

While his numbers there were good to close out the regular season — 10 points in 12 games — his time in Toronto ended badly when Francis had four points in 12 playoff games and was scratched for the Leafs’ final playoff game with what the team described as a back injury but observers suspected was coach Pat Quinn’s decision.

Francis became an unrestricted free agent July 1 when the Maple Leafs declined to re-sign him after a two-month stint with the team.

As has been the case in previous summers, Francis has not given any indication which way he is leaning.

“If there’s no season next year, it would be hard for guys in my age group to come back and play,” Francis said in May, but some of his former teammates and confidants say that Francis is not ready to retire.

I am very sad to see that it looks like ‘Ronnie Franchise’ is calling it a career. Will there ever be another player in the NHL as accomplished yet seemingly as underrated as him? I personally doubt it. I think the Leafs should be offering him another contract, for at least one more year. I think he was a great acquisition at the trading deadline as bringing in a class guy like him could not have been looked upon as anything but a positive move.

I was quite upset when I heard that Ron was being scratched before Game 6 of their second round series against Philadelphia. A healthy scratch, you have to be kidding me. I did hear Ron speak on a talk show this summer and he had admitted that he had a discussion with Pat Quinn before Game 6 but was he really a healthy scratch? During that conversation, he did admit that he was not 100% as his back was acting up on him but I’m sure he still wanted to play and was surprised when told by Quinn that he would go with guys who were more healthy. Was he really injured? Did this conversation with Quinn take place or is this something that Ronnie said just showing us again the consummate professional that he is? Those are a couple questions I have. If he was a healthy scratch, it was a pretty unclassy way to treat this future hall of famer.

I would have liked to have seen how Ron fits into a healthy Toronto lineup. As a Leaf fan, I just feel a little cheated that we were teased by his acquisition in the first place and with what could have been.

I feel the same way about the trade deadline acquisition two years ago of Doug Gilmour. I was overjoyed with having Dougie back in the blue and white but unfortunately, we only saw him on the ice with the Buds for a single period of hockey in Calgary. I think he would have been a huge performer in those playoffs but got injured at the worst time with the Leafs already badly banged up. If you remember, it was just the previous playoff where he was so instrumental in the Habs first round upset of the Bruins.

With Owen Nolan out last year, Quinn gave Ronnie nobody to play with and didn’t use him in the right situations. Quinn at times during the regular season played him on the wing which was not at all effective. Granted, he is a third line centre at best playing behind Mats and Nieuwy but he should have been on the top power play unit with Mats and Almo and not used in secondary situations. He has been dismantling teams throughout his career on the PP. Pat Quinn somehow did not realize this? I think Quinn is the one who should not have been offered another contract. I feel Quenneville would have been a great fit for the Leafs but it was decided they would stick with Quinn. Again a feeling of what could have been. Any other Leaf fans feel like we badly missed out here?