Thursday, March 1, 2012
After a junior hockey career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Ron Francis, born on this date in 1963, joined the Hartford Whalers, who drafted him fourth overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.
His offensive production was immediate, as in 59 games of the 1981-82 season he tallied 25 goals and 68 points as a rookie. The following season Francis led the Whalers in scoring after raising his goals to 31 and his points to 90 while being named to his first NHL All-Star Game in 1983. After scoring 83 points in 1983-84, Francis again led Hartford in scoring with 81 points and being named to his second all-star game. After 77 points in 1985-86 as well as being named team captain at the age of just 22, Francis led the Whalers in scoring for the third time in six seasons with a new career high of 93 points while hitting 30 goals for the second time.
Francis while wearing long pants while with the Whalers
A drop back to 75 points in 1987-88 was still enough to lead the Whalers in scoring once again, followed by 77 points the following season. His finest season in Hartford came during the 1989-90 campaign with a career high 32 goals as well as 69 assists for 101 points which earned him a third all-star appearance. His 69 assists were 7th in the league that season.
Francis now as the Whalers captain
After 67 games of the 1990-91 season, Francis stood at 76 points but was then involved in a blockbuster trade, which sent him, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapski and John Cullen. Centering the Penguins second line, Francis added another 11 regular season points plus 17 playoff points in 24 games as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup over the Minnesota North Stars.
Francis celebrates the Penguins Stanley Cup championship
Missing ten games of the 1991-92 season was partly responsible for a decline in his scoring, as the finished the season with a career low 54 points, but kept intact his streak of scoring at least 50 points for the 11th consecutive season. Francis stepped upon the postseason though, scoring 27 points in 21 games, ably leading the team while team captain Mario Lemieux missed six games due to injury as the Penguins swept their final two series to capture their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Francis reached the 100 point mark for the second time in 1992-93 with 24 goals and 76 assists which included his 1,000th career point. He followed that up with another 93 points the following season.
Francis with the puck from his 1,000th NHL point
His streak of consecutive 50 point seasons was put in jeopardy by the abbreviated 48 game 1994-95 season, of which Francis only skated in 44 games. Still, he netted 11 goals and 48 assists to comfortably keep his streak intact with 59 points as well as being named team captain during Lemieux's absence due to injury. In addition to his offensive streak, Francis valuable two-way play was rewarded with his being named the winner of the Selke Trophy as the as the league's best defensive forward and his style of play earned him a second award that season, the first of three Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly play.
Francis with the Lady Byng Trophy
The return of Lemieux from missing the previous season shifted the Penguins offense into a higher gear in 1995-96, with Francis racking up 92 assists to tie Lemieux for the league lead and a career high 119 points for fourth overall in the NHL scoring race despite coming in third on his own team! His efforts were recognized with his fourth NHL All-Star appearance.
His final two seasons with Pittsburgh saw Francis once again named team captain following the retirement of Lemieux as he would score 90 and then 87 points as he wrapped up 8 seasons with the Penguins by registering his 1,000th career assist as well as his second Lady Byng Trophy.
For the 1998-99 season, Francis signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes, who were the original Hartford Whalers franchise, now relocated to North Carolina. Naturally, his offensive production took a hit moving away from the prolific Penguins, and his 52 points were a career low up to that point, but his 50 point streak remained in effect, now at 18 seasons and counting. Francis was also installed as captain of the Hurricanes immediately upon his arrival.
Anyone who thought Francis career was in decline was sorely mistaken, as he rebounded with 73 points to lead the club in scoring. During the 2000-01 season, Francis scored a goal on this date, his 38th birthday, to become just the second player in NHL history to score 50 points for an amazing twenty straight seasons, the other being the legendary Gordie Howe. Francis would finish the season with a total of 65 points.
Francis wearing the Hockey Fights Cancer patch worn by only each club's captain
The 2001-02 season saw Francis score 77 points thanks to his third consecutive season with exactly 50 assists. He also joined the exclusive ranks of 500 goal scorers, just the 29th player to reach that plateau. The Hurricanes would go on the best playoff run of the franchise's time in the NHL, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time thanks in part to Francis' team leading 16 playoff points in 23 games.
Francis with the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions
He equalled Howe's streak of 50 point seasons in 2002-03 with 57 points, his 22nd consecutive season with 50 points or more.
His final NHL season saw him play 68 games with Carolina before a late season trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he played 12 regular season games and an additional 12 playoff games as Toronto was eliminated in the second round. That final season, between the two clubs combined, Francis scored 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points, bringing to an end his 50 point streak, as well as his career, as he retired following the season, but not before winning his third Lady Byng Trophy as well as the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his leadership on and off the ice.
Francis during his brief time in Toronto
His final career totals are 1,731 games played (third in NHL history), 549 goals scored (26th all-time) and 1,249 assists (2nd only behind Wayne Gretzky) for 1,798 points (4th all-time behind only Gretzky, Mark Messier and Howe).
Francis was honored by having his #10 raised to the rafters at the Hartford Civic Center, being named to the Penguins Ring of Honor and having his #10 formally retired by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.
Today's featured jersey is a 2000-01 Carolina Hurricanes Ron Francis jersey as worn the season Francis extended his 50 point streak to 20 seasons, only the second player to accomplish that level of productive longevity.
The Hurricanes adopted this jersey style for their very first season in North Carolina of 1997-98, the best feature of which is the clever hurricane warning flags repeated as the waist stripe. They added a black outline to their one color names after three seasons, but other than that minor tweak to the customizing, the jerseys remained unchanged until the introduction of the new Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007-08. The design remained as true to the original as possible, with really only white piping around the shoulders worth noting.
Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1989-90 Hartford Whalers Ron Francis jersey. Francis best season in Hartford was the 1989-90 season during which he had the first 100 point season of his career.
The Whalers adopted their new jerseys on the occasion of entering the NHL in 1979-80 following the demise of the WHA, their original home. At the time of the Whalers entering the NHL, they changed their color scheme from green and gold to green and blue, as well as changing their name from the New England Whalers to the Hartford Whalers on the insistence of the Boston Bruins.
The W-tail logo was a clever piece of graphic design creating the "H" out of the negative space between the "W" and the tail. This jersey was worn with the controversial long pants during only the 1982-83 season, and one of only two teams to ever sport the long pants look in the NHL.
There were some minor changes to this style over it's lifespan through 1991-92, including the bottom hem below the stripes changing from green to white and the stripes on the arms changing from angled to straight and back again, only to become straight once more. The most unfortunate change in style though, was the elimination of the Pucky the Whale shoulder patches in 1985-86.
Francis Today's featured video is a tribute to Francis and his long and productive career.
Here is an interview with Francis during which he looks back on his career.
Finally, here is Francis speech on the occasion of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.