Just days after announcing the signing of winger Mason Raymond, the Maple Leafs finally came to terms with restricted free agent defenseman Cody Franson on Thursday. The contract is a one year $2 million dollar deal which seems to have come somewhere in the middle from what both Franson and Nonis had been looking for.
Throughout the contract stalemate, it was made public that Nonis and the Leafs management were very adamant about signing Franson to a multi-year due to the fact that in this upcoming off-season Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jake Gardiner, and now Franson will see their contracts expire. So, the Leafs were hoping they could take one of these names off the list of contracts to negotiate next season.
However, for Franson he understood the cap had dropped $6 million dollars this year, that it would be going up next year, and that the Leafs were up against the cap. So, Franson believed that it was in his best interest to sign a one year deal to prove his worth and then look to sign a contract next season for a pay increase. In the end the Leafs gave in to Franson’s request for a one year deal, but made sure that the dollar amount was exactly where they wanted it, a compromise that both parties believe to be fair.
So, with Franson now signed for the 2014 season there are a few things that are going to have to happen in the next week before the season opens October 1st. First, Franson will want to get his feet wet in pre-season action as the only on ice workouts he has had lately have been at practices with the Ryerson Rams. It is believed that Franson will play in the Leafs remaining two pre-season games Friday and Saturday both against the Red Wings.
The second thing that is going to need to happen is figure out which defensemen will make the final roster and who will be sent down. It is expected that Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson will stick together, Franson will rejoin his partner Mark Fraser, and that Jake Gardiner will be paired up with either Paul Ranger, John-Michael Liles, or rookie hopeful Morgan Reilly. As it stands it seems as though Reilly will likely be the odd man out and sent back to his junior team in Moose Jaw. In saying that, Carlyle mentioned Thursday that the Leafs may look to keep the youngster around for the first 10 games of the season before doing so. So, that final spot could still be wide open.
Finally and likely the biggest and most important thing the Maple Leafs are going to have to try and do in the next couple weeks is make some cap space. With the signing of Franson the Leafs are now roughly $1 million dollars over the salary cap. In order to make room it is expected that the Leafs will put injured tough guy Frazer McLaren on the injured reserve meaning that McLaren would have to miss at least 10 games, but in the process the Leafs would be able to dump some salary.
The other thing it is expected the Leafs will do is start the season with an 18 man roster rather than 23 to also allow them to play under the cap. Both these moves however, are only short term so it looks as though the Leafs are going to have to move bodies in order to make space. The move that likely makes the most sense for the team is moving defenseman John- Michael Liles.
Liles, who is also pushing for a roster spot would likely fit outside of the Leaf’s top six and with a cap hit of just under $4 million dollars, moving his contract seems like the most viable option for the team.
For now it seems like the Leafs will be able to get away with playing with their cap problems to at least start the season, but moves will need to be made. Regardless of what needs to happen it is clear that the organization is very thrilled to have their most offensive producing defenseman back in a Maple Leafs uniform.
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