Acquired in a late-season trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Hartford Whalers in 1991, Ron Francis joined ranks with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens to bring home Pittsburgh's first Stanley Cup Championship. He'd later prove essential to the Penguins in their '92 run and put in another seven years for the Penguins.
It's kind of hard to be the flashy one when you play alongside guys wearing the numbers 66, 68 and 35, but Ron Francis definitely caught the eye of Pittsburgh fans throughout the span of his eight year career in Steel Town.
It all began at the end of the 1991 season. The Penguins sent Zarley Zalapski and John Cullen to the Hartford Whales for Ulf Samuelson and Ron Francis. Francis became an immediate fixture on the second line, tallying two goals nine assists for 11 points in his first 16 regular season games.
Francis would prove even more valuable in Pitt's Cup run, especially when you consider Lemieux missed 50 games that season with back surgery.
In 1992, Francis once again posed as the go-to guy when Lemieux was slashed by the New York Rangers' Adam Graves, breaking his left hand. While Lemieux would only miss five games, Francis' 8G, 9A playoff run helped the Penguins overtake the Rangers and eventually their second championship.
The remaining seasons in Pittsburgh proved beneficial to Francis. In 1995 Francis was the winner of both the Selke Trophy and Lady Byng, following up the next season with a career-high 119 points.
At the end of the 1998 season, Francis returned to the Hartford Whalers organization (now the Carolina Hurricanes) and finished out his career there up until the end of the 2004 season when he closed out the 12 games with the Maple Leafs and subsequently retired. The Whalers and Hurricanes both retired his number in 2006, and Francis received the ultimate honor with his 2007 Hall of Fame induction.
Currently Francis works in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes organization. In his past two seasons with the office staff, the Hurricanes have failed to make the playoffs. However, it seems more like it's a "manager in training" position, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Francis acted as GM for the organization within another 5-10 years. NHL.com did a great feature on him earlier this month.
Now for the cheesy factor - when I was a kid my buddy and I, like most kids playing hockey, would do the play-by-play calls as they skated along. I was always Lemieux and he was Francis. Not only was Lemieux my favorite player, but we decided this made sense because I was taller - which seems entirely practical when you're littler. Anyways, the memories of "Lemieux to Francis, Francis back to Lemieux - GOAL" still have a more personal meaning to me than any broadcast could produce.