The Carolina Hurricanes added scoring punch and leadership to a franchise that has missed the playoffs six straight years by signing Ron Francis on Monday.
The Hurricanes were ridiculed by some throughout hockey last season for fleeing Hartford and then producing an NHL-low attendance in its new southern home. However, Carolina came up big by signing one of the league's top players 4 1/2 months after losing a $38 million bidding war with Detroit for free agent Sergei Fedorov.
"I have two Stanley Cups under my belt, so my choice didn't have to be a team that could win it immediately, although that is still my goal," Francis said when asked if he would be questioned about his move to a losing franchise he once played for.
The league's ninth all-time scorer with 1,434 points left the Pittsburgh Penguins to sign a four-year, $20.8 million contract with the Hurricanes at the age of 35. Francis was fifth in the NHL in scoring last season with 87 points on 25 goals and 62 assists in 81 games.
"Money was a factor, but it wasn't the only factor," Francis said. "We may or may not have gotten more someplace else, but when we got to that point with Carolina we never really pursued (more money) This is the place I felt made sense -- in a hockey sense and in a family sense."
Francis said his study of the rapidly growing area of North Carolina made it a great place for his wife Mary Lou and three young children to live. General manager Jim Rutherford said after the move from Connecticut he hoped the Research Triangle area would help lure free agents to his club.
"As the father of three kids, I was very interested in going to a city that I feel is a good place to raise a family. That was a factor," Francis said. "My character and my family are a big part of my life. I wanted a place I thought my family could enjoy."
Francis said as many as 10 teams inquired about his services once the free agent market opened July 1. He said it became apparent after Christmas that the Penguins had no plans to re-sign him.
"From my experience, I felt it wasn't going to happen in Pittsburgh," Francis said.
Rutherford said the Hurricanes first offered Francis $4 million a season, but saw that figure increase once center Doug Gilmour signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks late last week.
Francis earned $1.9 million with Pittsburgh last season.
The center won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and high standard of play for the second time in the past four years last season.
Francis made his mark in Pittsburgh playing with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr and winning two titles, but he broke into the NHL with the former Hartford Whalers and played there for 10 seasons before being traded in 1991.
The trade -- Francis and Ulf Samuelsson for Zarley Zalapski, John Cullen and Jeff Parker -- was made by former Hartford general manager Eddie Johnston. It is regarded as one of the worst in franchise history.
Francis still holds most of the franchise's scoring records and is regarded as a hero of fans of the former Whalers.
"Too bad it's not happening in Hartford because they would have definitely sold season tickets, thousands of them with his return," said Jack Lautier, a lifelong Whalers fan and author of the book "Forever Whalers." "Just the name alone is going to sell at least 2,000 tickets in Carolina right off the top -- easily."
The Hurricanes averaged a league-low 9,108 in the Greensboro Coliseum last season.
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