The nickname (Ronnie) “Franchise” is not one that is handed out lightly. Ron Francis earned and deserved this nickname for his many contributions to Hurricanes hockey on the ice and equally importantly off of it.
He arrived as a free agent from Pittsburgh for the 1998-99 season. Just his arrival was a landmark moment for the team in its new market. As an established NHL great, his signing added instant credibility and legitimacy to a team that was still finding its way. He helped bridge the transition from two difficult two years in a temporary home in Greensboro and was named the captain of the team before its inaugural season in Raleigh in 1999-00 when Keith Primeau held out for contract reasons.
His NHL totals are an astounding testament to both longevity and high-end offensive productivity. In 1,731 games, Ron Francis scored 549 goals and dished out 1,249 assists for a total of 1,798 points. His point per game pace was maintained over a career that spanned 23 seasons starting when he was a young 18-year old kid and ending when he was a 40-year old veteran. As of August 2015, Ron Francis ranks second all-time in regular season assists, third all-time in games played and fourth all-time in scoring points. Francis also played in 171 playoff games and twice won the Stanley Cup (1991 and 1992 with Pittsburgh) in addition to leading the Canes to within three wins of a third Cup win. His collection of awards includes four All-Star Game appearances, three Lady Byng Trophies, a Selke Trophy and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. He is joined by radio announcer Chuck Kaiton and owner Peter Karmanos but is still the only player that Canes fans can truly call their own representing the team in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
As a Hurricane, he joined the team for the 1998-99 season and stayed with the team until his retirement following the 2003-04 season (that also included a short stint in Toronto after being dealt at the trade deadline). In those six seasons, he eclipsed 500 games played if you count regular season and playoffs. And in 472 regular season games, he registered 236 assists and 354 points, good for third and fifth respectively in Hurricanes history.
He also captained the team to two playoff appearances and its first playoff success. He was captain of the 2000-01 team that exited the playoffs in the first round. He was also the captain of the 2001-02 that first introduced Canes fans to the glory of playoff hockey, established NHL hockey in Raleigh and served as a spring board for building the team’s fan base. When his time in a Hurricanes uniform was over, his list of ‘firsts’ in team history was immense. It included:
–First captain in Raleigh (after move from temporary home in Greensboro).
–Captain for the first playoff appearance in Raleigh in 2002 (1997-98 was in Greensboro) and the first playoff series win and first Stanley Cup Finals appearance both in 2002.
–Scorer of winning goal in the team’s first Stanley Cup Finals win.
–The first jersey retired when his #10 was hung in the rafters at PNC Arena.
–The first Hurricanes player to be elected to the hockey Hall of Fame.
But as impressive as Francis’ statistics and accomplishments are both as a Hurricane and for his entire career, his contribution to Carolina Hurricanes hockey and its community is even greater. He grew to become the epitome of Carolina Hurricanes hockey. His class and character became the benchmark for all future Hurricanes. His humble personality coupled with his Hall-of-Fame greatness helped create the special closeness between the team and its fan base that differs from the normal distance in a larger market. The class with which he has always handled himself both on and off the ice permeates the entire organization to this date.
For his on-ice performance and also his role pioneering hockey in Raleigh, North Carolina and building the initial fan base, Ron Francis will forever be remembered as one of the all-time greats in Carolina Hurricanes hockey history.