Ronald Michael Francis, Jr. (born March 1, 1963) is a retired Canadian professional ice hockey centre who played 23 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. He now serves as the associate head coach and director of player personnel for the Hurricanes.
Francis was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in round 1 (fourth overall) of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. He was a model of consistency and durability, averaging more than a point a game in over 1700 games in 23 seasons, and (not counting the lockout-shortened 1994–95 season) averaging just under 77 games played a season. His three Lady Byng Trophies attest to his gentlemanly conduct on and off the ice. Francis stands second all-time in career assists behind Wayne Gretzky with 1,249, fourth in career points (1,798), third in games played (1,731), and twenty-first in career goals (549).
Francis played almost ten seasons with the Whalers, serving as captain for almost six and setting nearly every offensive record in franchise history. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 4, 1991 with Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings, in exchange for Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapski, and John Cullen. The trade became a coup for Pittsburgh, where he centred a formidable second line behind Mario Lemieux, as the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup less than three months later. Francis was indispensable the following year, as Pittsburgh repeated as champions, in leading the team during the absence of Lemieux in the 1992 playoffs – and in scoring the Cup-clinching goal against the Chicago Blackhawks. At the same time, it is considered to be one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history (though The Hockey News suggested that Hartford had gotten the better end of the trade at the time),; the players Hartford acquired never approached the numbers or impact Francis produced there or with Pittsburgh. Francis would spend seven seasons in Pittsburgh, captaining the team twice, and becoming the first Penguin to win the Selke Trophy in 1995.