This trade ended up being highway robbery, because Samuelsson and Francis ended up being studs. Zalapski was good, and Cullen wasn't bad, but the Penguins got the better end by far.
After seven full seasons (and two Cups) with the Penguins, he returned as a free agent to the franchise that drafted him. Although not right away, he would return to the role he played in Hartford: Captain. We assumed that "Ronnie Franchise" was locked in for the rest of his career.
Then March 9 happened. I remember exactly where I was: a barstool in a bar called Tap Room in Greensboro. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when I saw the news come across ESPN's crawl.
NHL: CAR trades C Ron Francis to TOR for fourth round pick.
I watched the whole crawl go through its rotation again. And again. Each time it said the same thing. I hadn't imagined it. To be sure, though, I thought I'd go home and check it out for myself on the trusty internets.
I went to the Canes official site, to the NHL site, and they both confirmed. My e-mail box had already received three official e-mails from the Canes front office telling season ticket holders the bad news. I was crushed. I cried that day. It had been a rough three or four months for me, with a number of other things that I should have been crying about. This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.
It took a few hours, or even days for me to comprehend what was going on. We did this for Ronnie. Still, though, it hurt. I was one of the many who felt betrayed and even hurt by the trade. It took a couple more days for me to come to grips with the idea that it was simply a rental from the Leafs standpoint, and a chance for the Cap to get his name on the Cup another time. He would be back next season, I told myself.
When it became more and more apparent that "next season" wasn't going to happen because of the lockout, it hurt even more. I knew that in all likelihood, I wouldn't ever get to see Ron Francis play again. I guessed correctly that the lockout would press his hand to hang up the skates, and we would have the ugly memory of OUR Captain playing his final games in a Leafs sweater. Like when Joe Montana finished his career not in San Francisco, but in Kansas City. When "Broadway Joe" Joe Namath finished his career not with the Jets, but with the LA Rams.
After Ronnie's official retirement, he was hounded by Canes management to take a front office job, but he politely declined, opting instead for a "normal" life of going to his kids' ballgames and being a dad and husband. We all knew that he would some day return to the game in some capacity. We didn't know when, or in what capacity, but we knew it would eventually happen, and we assumed that it would be with the Canes. He had, after all, decided to make Raleigh his permanent home.
The suspense was ended last weekend when Ronnie Franchise accepted a position with the Canes as the Director of Player Development. This means that he will have a very active role in bringing along the guys who are already at the AHL level, and also in scouting players elsewhere in the organization, or beyond the organization.
We're all proud to have him back in the fold, and very much looking forward to seeing his contributions.