Emile “The Cat” Francis has passed away at age 95.
A legend.— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 20, 2022
One of a kind.
You will be missed, Emile Francis. pic.twitter.com/iKrcUkdtet
A dear friend. A true character. pic.twitter.com/2CgPLgo4dW— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 20, 2022
Nicknamed “The Cat” as a junior player for his quick reflexes as a 5’7” netminder, Francis was a legend in the hockey community who appeared in 95 NHL games, 22 of which came with the New York Rangers from 1948 to 1952, but was known best for his work behind the bench and in the front office. After his playing career ended, Francis joined the Rangers organization serving as coach of the Guelph Royals of the OHA, before ultimately being called up to work for the Rangers directly.
Francis first served as an assistant general manager, worked his way up to general manager, and then stepped behind the bench and coached the New York Rangers from 1965 to 1975, and during that span posted a record of 342-209-103, with an overall points percentage of .602.
Francis is the Rangers’ all-time leader in wins (342), games coached (654), playoff wins (34), and playoff appearances (75). During his tenure with the Rangers there were two brief stints in which he focused primarily on his front office duties, and that’s why he only coached 33 games during the 1968-69 season, and 37 games during the 1973-74 campaign.
But it was as a team-builder and teacher in New York that he excelled. Serving as Rangers GM/coach for a decade, Francis guided his teams to the playoffs nine straight years, produced three consecutive 100-point seasons and reached the 1972 Stanley Cup Final. He was instrumental in the development of legendary players such as Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Brad Park.
Also from that story:
The Rangers qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs four times from 1951-64, never winning a series in that span. But with a Francis-built roster that included Gilbert and Ratelle, defenseman Brad Park and goalie Ed Giacomin, the Rangers returned to the playoffs in 1967 and got as far as the Cup Final in 1972 before losing to the Bruins.
“We did it all that season except win the Stanley Cup,” Francis said.
The Rangers made the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, but they never again came close to ending a championship drought that dated to 1940, and Francis was let go by the Rangers in January 1976.
Francis later went on to work for the St. Louis Blues from 1976 to 1983 where he served as an executive vice president, general manager and coach, although he only served behind the bench briefly. In 1982 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a builder, and also received the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to hockey in the United States.
He also was inducted in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame on June 17, 1989, and received the Wayne Gretzky International Award from the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
From 1983 to 1989, Francis served as the president and general manager of the Hartford Whalers before finally retiring from hockey after 43 years in 1993.
Francis was a familiar face around the Rangers and Madison Square Garden following his retirement from hockey, and even got the chance to serve as one of the team’s coaches during the alumni game played against the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the 2012 Winter Classic festivities.
Additionally, in 2008 the Rangers established the Emile Francis Award which recognizes a coach in the youth hockey community to acknowledge volunteers who embody Emile’s spirit and thank them for their outstanding service.
Francis left an indelible mark on the New York Rangers’ franchise, and spent the majority of his life passionately involved with the game of hockey. He played a tremendous role for some really talented teams who truly “did everything but win,” and will be dearly missed.