This summer, as Francis begins his general manager tenure searching for a new head coach, those peer connections have again risen to the forefront.
The list of Francis' former on-ice teammates-turned-coaches is lengthy: Kevin Dineen, Ed Olczyk, Ulf Samuelsson, Dean Evason, Doug Jarvis, Rick Tocchet.
The amount of off-ice coaching success those men have had, however, is minimal.
It may be great for Francis' social life to choose one of his buddies as head coach—but it would be neither just nor considerable for him to cripple the 'Canes with such cronyism.
Of the six, Dineen has had by far the most success behind an NHL bench, but to label his entire coaching tenure with the Florida Panthers as successful is still generous.
Dineen, now 50, led the Panthers to their first-ever division title and first playoff appearance in 11 years in 2012. He did so, however, with a loser-point-aided losing record (38-44) and lost to the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in the first round.
The Panthers then floundered to a pathetic 15-33 record in lockout-shortened 2012-13 and to a 3-13 mark to begin 2013-14 before Dineen and staff were fired.
The inexperienced boss, who played with Francis in Hartford from 1984-1991 and in Carolina in 1998-99, admittedly dealt with a severely salary- and talent-lacking squad for the majority of his time in South Florida, but his results were almost equally mediocre.
The Pens posted a brutal 23-59 record under Olczyk's guidance (if it could be called such) in 2003-04; following the lockout year, they then began the 2005-06 campaign 8-23—despite rookie Crosby's 31 points in 31 games—before the Olczyk disaster was finally called off.
Francis spent just two seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-98, as his teammate in Pittsburgh; for the Hurricanes' sake, it's worth hoping that the bond between the pair didn't grow too deep in those two years.
Samuelsson has perhaps displayed the most dedication to coaching of the six, leading Swedish club Modo to a 47-49-13 record in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and serving as both a Coyotes and Rangers assistant in the past half-decade, but he's also widely regarded as one of the dirtiest players in NHL history.
Would he toughen up Drayson Bowman? Yes, probably. Would he be able to help Eric Staal's struggling confidence and production much? Doubtful.
Evason played with Francis in Hartford from 1984 to 1991 and currently holds the Kirk Muller-vacated job as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals (the Nashville Predators' AHL affiliate).
Tocchet, a teammate of Francis for three seasons in the Steel City, coached two disappointing and forgettable years in Tampa Bay before being axed. The Lightning won a mere 19 games in 2009-10 under his leadership, then improved to 34 in 2010-11, yet it wasn't enough to prolong Tocchet's fate.
It's certainly no secret that retired star players often fail miserably in attempts to convert others into stars. Wayne Gretzky stands as a glaringly blatant example of the failed transition, but others such as Butch Goring, Vic Stasiuk, Bryan Trottier and Curt Fraser also experienced similar failures.
GMs around the league today still commit that mistake, though. Colorado's Patrick Roy and his miracle turnaround exists as an exception, not a standard.
Arguably scarier than the embarrassingly weak resumes of Dineen, Olczyk, Samuelsson and the others, however, is the public traction they're gaining in the Hurricanes' coaching search.
TSN's Bob McKenzie stirred the pot with this tweet last week:
Ulf Samuelsson, Kevin Dineen and Ed Olczyk will be amongst ex-teammates of CAR GM Ron Francis mentioned as potential coaching candidates.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 5, 2014
Chip Alexander of the News & Observer mentioned Samuelsson's name early in his column last week:
Francis said he could not talk about anyone who is under contract. That could include an assistant coach such as Ulf Samuelsson of the New York Rangers, who are facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.
Samuelsson and Francis are close friends and once were teammates with the Hartford Whalers and later the Penguins, twice winning the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun also daringly proclaimed Dineen as Carolina's "expected" next head coach:
Coaching moves: Expect Kirk Muller to join St Louis as an asst coach and expect Kevin Dineen to be named head coach in Carolina.— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 8, 2014
In an extensive poll conducted by the Canes Country blog, 20 percent of the fanbase voted for Dineen as their first-choice coaching hire—just three percentage points shy of Barry Trotz for the largest majority. Samuelsson accounted for another five percent of the vote.
Frankness and familiarity are always positive group traits within a professional team management group.
Would Kevin Dineen be a smart choice to be the Hurricanes' next head coach?
But now is not the time for the Hurricanes to stay trapped within their comfort zone. Cronyism has too often before trapped the team in a harmful and uncomfortable bind—the brotherhood between Eric, Jordan and even Jared Staal, the friendship between Jim Rutherford and Paul Maurice.
Now is the time for the Hurricanes to add the fresh perspectives of those outside the organization, those with different ideas and different experiences, those most dissimilar to the men who have led the team down this very path to the league basement.
Ron Francis boldly challenged both himself and the franchise last week with the firing of Kirk Muller and staff.
He cannot afford to now take a step back into the safe mental prison of familiarity which so haunted his predecessor.
The hiring of an unqualified former teammate as Carolina's next head coach would be an immense gaffe with possibly irreversible consequences.