I am happy and sad at the same time about the retirement of Ron Francis. Not only one of the greatest players of all time, but one of the greatest ambassadors to the sport, Ronnie will be missed. Mostly by Hurricanes/Whalers and Penguins fans, but by any true fan of our sport.
Whenever you hear someone mention Ron Francis, you can't go more than a minute without hearing the words "class", "poise", "leadership", "dedication", "humble", "underrated". All these words describe the man inside the sweater rather than the sweater. Except this one: underrated.
Ron Francis quietly amassed 1798 points over his incredible 23 year career. Fourth only to Gordie Howe (1850), Mark Messier (1887), and Gretzky (2857). That's some pretty elite company.
He had 1249 assists, second only to Gretzky's 1963.
He had 579 goals, 19th on the NHL all-time list.
He was one of only two players in the history of our sport to record 20 20-goal seasons. That other guy was Gordie Howe.
He played in 1731 regular season NHL contests, third only to Messier's 1756 and Howe's 1767.
Somehow, despite all of this, the hockey gods only saw fit to name him an All-Star four times.
His three Lady Byng trophies can't come close to defining the level of class he played (and lives life) with. Ask anyone who has met him. Anyone who has played with him. Anyone who has played against him. Anyone who knows anything about hockey.
But "being recognized" isn't what Ronnie Franchise is about. He never cared about stuff like that. He loves the game and he loved being the terrific leader that he was, but he couldn't have cared less about the accolades. He always deflected praise and put the team above individual accomplishments. He is the perfect example of a franchise player. Team first. The kind of guy you want to build your team around. The kind of guy you need in the locker room. He made other players better, and he made the team better because of it. He may have even made players on other teams better. There's probably a ton of North American skaters in the league who would name Ron Francis as one of their boyhood idols.
There's also his play on the ice. The outstanding vision, the tremendous playmaking ability, the hustle, the two-way dominance, the ability to anticipate the location of the puck. All sorts of superlatives could be used to describe his play.
The little stuff. I can remember several times during the 2003-04 season, just watching him on the bench. He'd sit beside our rookie Eric Staal (who, incidentally, is sometimes described as a "mini-Francis") talking to him, coaching him. Staal looking at Ronnie the whole time, instead of watching the game.
I am very happy for Ron that he has his name on the Cup twice. As nice as it would have been for him to have stayed with the Hartford/Carolina franchise, during those 8 seasons, it was the best thing for him. We're just lucky that we got him back, and that he gave us a run to the Cup in 2002.
He will, like his friend and recent retiree Mark Messier, be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
Although the Hurricanes site has no mention of his retirement, I would be VERY surprised if something isn't in the works for a sweater retirement on the night of our home opener. How perfect that our home opener is versus the Penguins, with whom he won two Cups. Fifteen years with the WhalerCanes and eight with the Penguins. A great opportunity for both organizations to send him off in style. Ironically, being sent off "in style" wouldn't be Ronnie's style. I think he'll humor us, though.
Thanks for the memories, Ron.
5 years ago