|Cody Franson #4 - Toronto Maple Leafs|
When the Leafs traded Slaney and Lebda for Franson and Lombardi everyone thought the key to the deal was Franson. The Leafs would take on the extra salary from Lombardi but in exchange Nashville had to give up a good young defenseman. Cody Franson, who is 24 years old, had 29 points in 80 regular season games, and six points in 12 playoff games last season. The Leafs weren't just getting a prospect in return, but an NHL ready defenseman who makes a mere 800k this season. Everything seemed to be going well until the season started and Cody Franson found himself a healthy scratch. On top of that, he publicly made known he felt that he deserved to play on a regular basis for the Leafs. This caused a bit of controversy, and suddenly things didn't seem as bright as they were in the off-season, which is when the Leafs made the trade.
Franson would be patient over the next half a dozen games or so until he finally got a shot to play, but he didn't look all that impressive and was in and out of the line-up until Toronto suffered some injuries on the back end. As Franson continued to play more he became more steady in the defensive zone, cutting out those little mistakes that a coach hates, and he showed his offensive skills as well. Franson has a really hard shot, but also knows when to take a softer shot and get it through the traffic on the net. Leafs defenseman have struggled many times with actually getting a shot on the net, often times they shoot the hardest slap shot they can muster and the puck sails over the net or wide of the post.
Franson has somewhat cemented his role on the team. He usually gets powerplay time on the second unit, and has seen his production grow this season. Through 36 games he has three goals and 11 assists for 14 points. Those stats are respectable, but not great, until you do some further research. And I took two key points to research how his offensive numbers could be in the elite class of players this season. The first is the amount of games he didn't play due to being a health scratch behind players that many consider him to be superior to, and the second is his ice time per game.
Firstly, if Cody Franson had played all 51 games for the Leafs this season, he would have 20 points thus far and be on pace for over 30 points by the end of this season. Secondly, this season Cody Franson had played on average 16 minutes and 13 seconds per game, which is the least of any defenseman that has dressed for the Leafs. Hypothetically speaking, if Cody Franson played about 21 minutes per game, which is a respectable amount for most defenseman, his production would increase even more. Franson has played roughly 583 minutes this year (16m 13s x 36 games). If you divide that number by the amount of points he has, which is 14, you would get 41.7. This number represents the average amount of time he plays in comparison which each point he gets. So, if Franson wasn't scratched earlier this season, and plays 21 minutes a game, he would be in the top 20 in points by a defenseman thus far in the season, and he would be on pace for over 40 points by April.
Now, I'm not saying Franson is getting the raw end of the deal here, and these above hypothetical stats are all based on "what ifs" which probably wont occur, but one has to wonder... I was just as unhappy with Franson's play early in the season as Ron Wilson was, and although I wouldn't go as far as justifying playing Mike Komisarek over him every game, I didn't mind the coach's decision to sit Franson. Since then, however, he has proven that he deserves to be a regular in the line-up.
Now you're probably annoyed of reading hypothetical stats and how he played last season and blah, blah, blah. So, where am I going with all of this? Well, with all the talk in Toronto being about Mikhail Grabovski and his contract expiring this off-season, little has been mentioned that Cody Franson's contract is ending as well. Other players with expiring contracts include: Nikolai Kulemin, Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill and Jonas Gustavsson. Below is a chart of Toronto's pending unrestricted and restricted free agents.
The Leafs already have over 51 million dollars in player salaries tied up for next season. That 51 million includes nine forwards, six defenseman, one goaltender, and the one million dollars they are still paying for buying out Darcy Tucker. There really isn't much room for signing the key players with expiring contacts, who in my opinion are Grabovski, Kulemin, Franson, and Crabb, let alone improving the team going forward. Brian Burke and his team will have to crunch numbers and find out exactly what the plan for next season is.
If the Leafs are unable to unload some of their currently signed over-priced players, such as Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, and Mike Komisarek, they may have to trade someone with an expiring contract before the deadline, or let them go to free agency. Grabovski, Kulemin and Franson would likely be getting the most interest. I would assume Grabovski would sign for between 4-6 million a season for a five year term, and Kulemin would sign for a similar contract as the one he currently has, which is between 2-3 million a year. But where does Cody Franson fit?
It's hard to say at this point of the season how much Franson would ask for next season, but it could be anywhere from 2-3.5 million a season. Obviously anything over three million sounds like it's coming out of left field, but if Franson is still unhappy with the amount of ice time he is getting and his state with the team overall, he may push it a bit. You can couple this with the fact that Luke Schenn is making 3.6 million this season and you could argue that Franson has been the better and more consistent of the two. That being said, I don't see him signing for much more than 2 million dollars, but you have to consider every angle.
So comes the decision to trade Franson at the trade deadline later this month, re-sign him in the off-season, or if he doesn't want to re-sign for a price the Leafs are comfortable paying given their cap situation, trade his rights as a restricted free agent in the off-season. If the Leafs will end up trading him they would want to do so at the deadline as opposed to in the off-season as his value will be much higher at the deadline. That being said, the Leafs are in a playoff push and trading Franson may hurt their chances at the post season and beyond. I'm not sure what teams are offering for Cody Franson, or if Brian Burke is getting any calls at all about him. In my opinion if the Leafs decide to trade Franson, rather than trading him for a pick (likely a second or third rounder) or a prospect, the Leafs would be better off trading him as part of a bigger trade for a top 6 forward they have been looking for. Either way Brian Burke and his management staff have some decisions to make.
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