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Francis’ Kraken are Deja Vu for Hurricanes Fans

The Seattle fan base has been subjected to the same disappointment that Hurricanes fans felt during Ron Francis’ tenure as General Manager.

2021 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI Images via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, folks. Ron Francis is the General Manager of a team with abysmal goaltending, scoring woes and a bad head coach. You have? Well, too bad. I’m going to talk about it anyway.

There have been a number of times since Francis was named GM of the Kraken where I’ve had to rub my eyes and check if I’m dreaming because it feels that the Kraken are in the exact same position that the Hurricanes were from 2014-2018.

If you’re a Hurricanes fan that paid attention to the team during those years, the problems the Kraken are facing should come as no surprise to you. In fact, you’ve probably seen those moments and triggered a flashback to the darker times in Hurricanes history. When Francis was GM, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I quickly realized that he was unfit to lead this team forward and his inaction was detrimental to the team’s success. Let’s break down where Seattle may have gone wrong, and why it’s almost as if we’re collectively experiencing deja vu.

Coaching

Seattle had a tough task when it was constructing its front office and coaching staff. Ron Francis had been a GM and laid some of the foundations that have made the Hurricanes a successful team. From an outsider’s perspective, it makes sense. For Canes fans, however, the Francis hire was one that we all predicted would be a disappointing one.

So who does Francis hire as their head coach? Dave Hakstol, a coach that failed to make it past the first round in a little over three years as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. A strange and fairly disappointing hire, Hakstol’s team has been the worst team in the Pacific Division nearly all season long and has struggled to score goals. Sound familiar?

Expansion Draft

Oh man, where to start. Nobody expected Seattle to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year as a franchise, but after Vegas’ success in the expansion draft, people were expecting some excitement. Media were talking about how side deals would be a thing and how Seattle could build a competitive roster in expansion. None of those things happened, however, and hockey fans felt disappointed in the lack of trades and in the picks made by Seattle.

Fans and media were surprised, in fact. Except for those of the Hurricanes, who had seen this story play out a number of times over the years. “This is the year where we make a big trade!” Canes fans would exclaim, only for Ron Francis to don that same damn polo shirt and preach to us about how he likes his group and that it takes two teams to make a trade. Remember the 2018 trade deadline? The Hurricanes were three points out of a playoff spot and had a chance to end the drought, yet the only trade Francis made was sending Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh for Greg McKegg.

Now on paper, Vegas’ expansion draft was just okay. The roster they built from their picks wasn’t fantastic, but where they found success was in the side deals that they made with other teams as insurance to not pick a certain player. Here is Vegas’ roster before including the side deals:

  • Calvin Pickard, Luca Sbisa, Teemu Pulkkinen, Jon Merrill, William Carrier, Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek, Jonathan Marchesseault, Brayden McNabb, Connor Brickley, Chris Thorburn, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, JF Berube, James Neal, Deryk Engelland, Brendan Leipsic, Colin Miller, Marc Methot, David Schlemko, David Perron, Oscar Lindberg, Griffin Reinhart, Alexei Emelin, Clayton Stoner, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmitt

There are a handful of solid players on this roster, but for the most part, it’s every team’s fringe NHL players with a handful of top-nine forwards and third-pairing defensemen sprinkled in. Marc-Andre Fleury might have been the most impressive pick at the time, given his history and Stanley Cups. But again, where Vegas found success was in the side deals they made. GM George McPhee made 10 side deals in total, listed below.

  • 2017 sixth-round pick from Buffalo
  • Reilly Smith from Florida
  • Boston’s 2017 fifth-round pick from Carolina
  • 2017 24th overall pick and 2019 second-round pick and David Clarkson from Columbus
  • 2017 13th overall pick and 2019 third from Winnipeg in exchange for 24th overall pick
  • 2017 second-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick and the rights to Nikita Gusev from Tampa Bay
  • 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, Mikhail Grabovski and Jake Bischoff from the New York Islanders
  • Shea Theodore from Anaheim
  • Alex Tuch and a conditional third-round pick from Minnesota
  • 2020 second round pick from Pittsburgh

Smith and Tuch have been top-nine, even top-six forwards for Vegas since joining the team. Both players have emerged as excellent NHL players. Theodore is one of Vegas’ top defenders and much better than any of the players Anaheim left available to the Golden Knights in expansion. Vegas then moved five of the players they selected in the expansion draft to other teams. Those trades are as follows:

  • Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round pick to Carolina for a 2017 second-round pick
  • David Schlemko to Montreal for a 2019 fifth-round pick
  • Marc Methot to Dallas for Dylan Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick
  • Alexei Emelin to Nashville for a 2018 third-round pick
  • Calvin Pickard to Toronto for a 2018 sixth-round pick and Tobias Lindberg

Not too shabby, right? We all know what happened next. Vegas goes on to the Stanley Cup Final and has been a contender ever since. Now, let’s look at Seattle’s expansion draft selections.

  • Jeremy Lauzon, Will Borgen, Dennis Cholowski, Chris Driedger, Cale Fleury, Joey Daccord, Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann, Morgan Geekie, Gavin Bayreuther, Nathan Bastian, Jordan Eberle, Colin Blackwell, Carsen Twaryinski, Brandon Tanev, Vitek Vanecek, Tyler Pitlick, John Quenneville, Joonas Donskoi, Jamie Oleksiak, Carson Soucy, Calle Jarnkrok, Vince Dunn, Mason Appleton, Haydn Fleury, Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, Kurtis MacDermid, Alexander True, Kole Lind

Again, mostly NHL-AHL tweeners with a few solid NHL players sprinkled in. But surely NHL mastermind Ron Francis has something up his sleeve, right? As a Hurricanes fan, it was funny watching the rest of the league react in shock to the news that Seattle had made zero side deals while Hurricanes fans reacted with a “yeah that sounds about right.” We had been there before, after all. Seattle traded away three players after the draft, all of which were for draft picks.

  • Tyler Pitlick to Calgary for a 2022 fourth-round pick
  • Kurtis MacDermid to Colorado for a 2023 fourth-round pick
  • Vitek Vanecek to Washington for a 2023 second-round pick

Three trades as opposed to Vegas’ fifteen trades is a paltry amount, but it sums up Francis’ time with the Hurricanes quite well. Tremendous amounts of hype with little to no movement. Nothing was done to make the team better and Seattle is suffering because of it.

Drafting

Seattle was awarded the second overall pick in the draft lottery and selected Matty Beniers, the best player available. The rest of their draft, however, sums up Francis’ drafting with the Hurricanes almost to a tee. His next six picks were “safe” picks, or players with relatively low upside and a high floor. These are players that will likely peak as bottom-six forwards or third-pairing defensemen but ones that have a relatively high chance of making it to the NHL one way or another. Now, Ron Francis did find Sebastian Aho after the first round and there’s something to be said about how many NHL players he drafted. But if all of your picks can fit into a certain role, you’re going to have a logjam with very little high end talent.

Weaponizing Cap Space

Francis was left with a lot of cap space after the expansion draft and used it to bring in Jayden Schwartz, Alexander Wennberg and Philipp Grubauer in free agency. That might be more than he ever did in free agency when he was with the Hurricanes, so I’ll give him that. It helps when you have an owner that’s willing to spend money on the team, after all. However, Francis’ decision to not weaponize his cap space was a baffling one and one that gives more fuel to the notion that he is a poor negotiator when it comes to trades. Francis always seemed good for one of those trades that made you go “wow, how did Carolina pull this off?” every year. First it was Versteeg, then it was Teravainen. But he stayed quiet with Seattle, electing to make no trades in the process, while the Arizona Coyotes weaponized their cap space in multiple deals.

Analytically, Seattle was supposed to be a middle of the road team at best. By weaponizing their cap space and adding one or two decent players on a bad contract, they may not have made their team a playoff team, but they could have stocked the cupboards with draft picks for future years. Yet, as we saw in the expansion draft, Francis’ asking price was too high and teams elected to trade with Arizona. And Francis probably sat in his office mumbling about it taking two teams to make a trade while exchanging his red polo for a gray one.

On-Ice Performance

Finally, we get to the on-ice performance of the Kraken, which is so similar to the Hurricanes. They have good to great defensive metrics, poor finishing and abysmal goaltending. Now, it doesn’t help that Philipp Grubauer has turned into Scott Darling overnight, but it does raise questions about Francis’ ability to evaluate goaltenders. Seattle’s team is struggling to score goals, which makes sense given the lack of finishers on their roster, but it once again draws comparisons to the Hurricanes under Ron Francis. Seattle passed on Max Domi, whose seven goals would put him sixth on the team. Domi would also be tied for sixth in team scoring with 15 points.

All of these reasons are why I’m led to believe that Ron Francis is an average to below average evaluator of talent and a poor trade negotiator. His stubbornness and refusal to lower the asking price cost his team assets both during and after the expansion draft. He could have set his team up nicely for the future, but instead, he’s looking at an underwhelming team with an underwhelming prospect pool.

Seattle’s team is baffling, and their decisions with how to operate their franchise are too. When your local newspaper is writing about how fans are starting to lose interest because of your team’s poor start, maybe it’s time to look at those in charge and decide whether or not you’ve made the right decision. I’d love nothing more than to see hockey not only succeed, but thrive in Seattle. It’s great for the sport as a whole and that fan base deserves a lot better than what they’re getting.

From a Canes fan that lived through the Ron Francis years, I’m sorry, Seattle. You all deserve better.