Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Future Hall of Famer Ron Francis Retires

Today, future hall of famer Ron Francis announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the fourth retirement in the last few days of a played that I consider a hall of famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career. He joins Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Mark Messier.

Ron Francis was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on March 1st, 1963. He rose through the Sault Ste. Marie minor hockey system and eventually made the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds of the OHL in 1980. In 1981, the Hartford Whalers drafted Francis in the first round, fourth overall.

In 1981/82, he split the season between Sault Ste Marie and Hartford in the NHL. He put up 68 points in 59 games in his first partial NHL season, making him an immediate sensation. In 1982/83, he made the NHL All Star Game for the first of four times in his career. In the 1984/85 season, Francis became the Whalers captain. He was consistently the best player on the team for several years. In 1989/90, he put up his first of three 100 point seasons when he scored 101 points. In the 1990/91 season, Hartford wanted to shake up their largely unsuccessful franchise, so they traded Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh for John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapsky.

In Pittsburgh, Francis was the number two centerman behind Mario Lemieux. This allowed him the opportunity to concentrate on his defensive responsibilities and become one of the premier defensive forwards in the game (while keeping up his offensive success). Francis was an important part of Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup win that year in 1991. In 1992, Francis was again an important part of the Stanley Cup winning Penguins. He led the NHL in assists during the playoffs with 19. In 1994/95, Francis led the NHL in both assists and +/-. He won the Lady Byng trophy for the player who best combines sportmanship and hockey ability and the Frank J Selke trophy as best defensive forward. In 1995/96, he again led the NHL in assists and he put up his career best point total with 119. In 1997/98, Francis won his second Lady Byng trophy. At the end of the season, he left as a free agent to join the Carolina Hurricanes (which is his old Hartford franchise moved to a new market).

Francis quickly became captain of the Hurricanes. In 2002, he won his third Lady Byng trophy. He also won the King Clancy award for the player who best combines humanitarian achievement off the ice with success as a player. In 2003/04, Carolina decided to trade Francis to Toronto at the trade deadline for their fourth round pick in 2005 (it was widely known Francis was considering retirement, thus he had little trade value).

In Toronto, Francis played out the rest of the season (12 games played plus 12 more in the playoffs). Francis missed the next year for the lockout and then announced his retirement.

Ron Francis is third all time in games played with 1731 games. His 549 goals is 19th all time. His 1249 assists is second all time (behind Gretzky). That gives him a total of 1798 points, which is good enough for fourth al time. Francis was one of the quietest most dignified players of all time. He was very good as both an offensive and a defensive forward and a very good captain. However, he never got the chance to be the top player on a team in a major media market, as a result, Francis is an often overlooked star.

Francis will spend some time with his two children in his home of Raleigh, North Carolina. Someday, he may return to the NHL in a management or coaching role.

Ron Francis's retirement leaves only fourteen players on my list of players who should make the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what they do (or do not do) for the remainder of their careers. They are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

We have recently had several retirements to shorten this list. When the season opens up, the other currently active NHL players will have the chance to make it to this Hall of Fame list.

Your list of still active players that are sure-fire future hall of famers includes Lemieux, who is already in the Hall.
The question of whether or not Mario Lemieux is a still active player who deserves to be in the hall of fame is different from the question of whteher or not he is already there.
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