Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mr. Underrated

Last night, the NHL inducted its class of 2007 into the Hockey Hall of Fame, with perhaps the most impressive class ever, featuring Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, and Mark Messier. In honour of these four incredible players, I will be writing a post about each of them this week.

So without further ado, here goes the first one...

In life, there are those who seek results, and those who seek attention. In professional sports, this is even more magnified, as the media is very quick to turn a loud-mouth-hot-dog into an overnight sensation. While these characters, or should I say caricatures make for entertaining television, it is those who seek results that make for excellent sports. The first Hall of Fame Inductee that I will be remembering is the epitome of results over attention, and is perhaps the most underrated player of all-time.

Quick, who is #2 on career assists, trailing only Wayne Gretzky? Mario Lemieux? Nope! Gordie Howe? Sorry! Paul Coffey? Heck no! Why the answer is none other than Ron Francis.

Ron Francis has had an incredibly prolific scoring career, including three hundred point seasons. All the while excelling at the other end of the ice too, killing penalties, winning faceoffs, and even winning the Selke Trophy in 1995. But yet, throughout the prime of his career he was largely forgotten and cast aside.

Does anyone else remember the 95-96 season when Ron Francis was 4th in league points? If you said no then you are certainly forgiven, because you are in the majority of crowds there. While being 4th in league points is an incredible accomplishment and surely worthy of praise, it is easy to be forgotten when your two linemates, Lemieux and Jagr, are 1st and 2nd respectively.

That seems to be the way that Francis has spent his entire career, in relative obscurity. He started out playing in the NHL’s equivalent of Purgatory, Hartford, before being traded at the 1991 Trade Deadline to Pittsburgh. The addition of Francis (along with Ulf Sammuelson) is largely credited with putting the Penguins “over the hump”, allowing them to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. When budget cuts began creeping into the Penguins organization, Francis returned to the organization that drafted him. Even though the Whalers had relocated to Carolina, they were still by and large off the map, allowing Francis to once more sneak off the radar. While playing in Carolina, he was a pivotal part of the organizations first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002.

As the Hurricanes looked to miss the playoffs in 2004, they decided to trade away their captain to try and build their future, sending him to the Maple Leafs in March of that year. In a cruel twist of irony, the man who so desperately avoided the spotlight finished his career playing for the team at the centre of the hockey universe, retiring after the 2004 season.

I was always impressed with Francis’s non-nonsense approach to the game. His consistency and responsibility were a perfect counter balance to the flash and sizzle showed by Lemieux and Jagr throughout the 90’s. His grace and calm demeanor makes him a fantastic role model to any young player of his generation or before.

So as Ron Francis received his greatest honour any player can ever receive, being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he once more flew under the radar, with the majority of the attention going on the other three players. But don’t worry Ron, I’ve always thought that you are one of the best!!!

Until next time,


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