Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

Francis had 1,798 points in 1,731 games over 23 seasons with the Hartford Whalers/Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. He won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.

Competing for the Cup in the early going will be the expectation for Seattle after the Golden Knights reached the Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. Francis will have two full seasons to scout the rest of the league before his as-yet-named team’s expansion draft in June 2021.

Francis did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Capitals re-sign Jakub Vrana in 2-year deal

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The Washington Capitals took care of their biggest remaining offseason priority Tuesday by re-signing winger Jakub Vrana to a $6.7 million, two-year contract.

Vrana had been a restricted free agent and will count $3.35 million against the salary cap in each of the next two seasons. Locking him in at that price on a bridge deal could allow Washington to re-sign center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby before either core player becomes a free agent next summer.

The 23-year-old Vrana set career highs with 24 goals, 23 assists and 47 points last season. The 2014 first-round pick is a big piece of the Capitals trying to keep their championship window open after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

The Czech has 80 points in 176 NHL regular-season games. Vrana had three goals and five assists during the Cup run and scored first in the title-clinching Game 5 in the final at Vegas.

MacLellan said after this past season that Vrana’s growth was part of the Capitals’ ability to not lose a step after winning a championship. Next season will be another challenge, with Washington counting on Vrana to continue increasing his production.

The most important thing is to “stay consistent and play good every game and get better,” Vrana said in April. “Every season is a good experience. Either you end up winning the Stanley Cup, or if you lose like we did in the first round, it’s life. You cannot take the time back. It only can make you stronger and better.”

Cap-strapped Washington still has to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson — both have salary arbitration hearings scheduled. The Capitals have just under $1 million in cap space remaining.

Backstrom and Holtby can become unrestricted free agents after next season, although it’s possible both could sign long-term extensions before hitting the open market. Top goaltending prospect Ilya Samsonov is close to making the NHL.

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