It hasn’t been the picture-perfect start Cody Franson envisioned when he was acquired by Brian Burke over the summer. Being a good Canadian boy and Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan, he may of taken things a tad too easy during training camp, which eventually resulted in him being benched in favor of rookie defenseman, Jake Gardiner.
There are many explanations to exactly Franson was benched, with Komisarek’s contract and Gunnarsson’s trade-value keeping them in the lineup being the most popular accusations. However, let’s let one thing be for certain: Cody Franson did not earn a spot on this Maple Leafs team. In fact, I firmly believe the combination of who he was acquired for and his one-way status were his saving grace of being demoted, with the latter being the more relevant reason.
In training camp, which carried over to the preseason, which carried over to his three games of regular season action, he has looked like a fish out of water on the ice, of course more notably in the defensive end. It’s just a matter of effort with Franson, and how he is severely lacking it. It seems like he felt he was entitled to a spot on the opening night roster, and that mindset has plagued him in becoming what the Leafs project him to be with a little work: a top-4, all-around defenseman. And he’s been benched as a result, because he’s just been too costly for Toronto. After-all, though statistics don’t tell the entire story, they certainly don’t lie; Franson’s single point (an assist) and a minus-4 rating in 3 games don;t exactly scream “top-4”.
Nonetheless, not everything should be painted black with the British Columbia-native, as he still has that great upside Burke raved about when acquiring the young, offensive stud. And the key to reaching that upside, or at the very least most of it, is something commonly used to attain success in life: patience. And it is bolded for a reason.
When the Leafs acquired Franson, he was scouted as a big body who is offensively gifted, and was unfairly pegged as a defensive liability. I say ‘unfairly’ because statistics prove that Franson was very rarely used behind center-ice in Nashville. In fact, nearly 50% of shifts started and ended in the offensive zone. Comparing that to Shea Weber’s percentage at roughly 46% and you can see the Predators felt uncomfortable with Franson in the defensive zone.
The ‘unfairly’ part comes in when Franson’s CORSI statistics come in to play (CORSI is a stat measuring a player’s team’s possession of the puck when he is on/off the ice, measured in shots on goal). Take a look.
When on the ice, Franson has a CORSI ON rating of roughly 2.44, while his OFF rating was at roughly -3.08, meaning Nashville had on average 2 and half more shots on goal than they did against with him on, and roughly 3 more against than for with him off. This most likely equates to Franson’s offensive prowess on the ice, but it also shows he’s not nearly as bad in the defensive zone as many think. Yes, 50% of his shifts start and end across center ice, but a -3.06 CORSI OFF rating is quite impressive when comparing it to defensive monsters Weber and Ryan Suter’s ratings, which were at roughly -4.5. Indeed, it’s a whole point and half lower, but for Franson, who’s pegged as an offense only defenseman, he should be given more credit in the defensive zone than he gets.
And here is where the whole, “stats don’t tell the entire story” line comes into play; it also appears Franson gets better with more work. In his first game against Boston, he logged close to 14 minutes of ice time and was a -3. Against Colorado, he played for about 17 minutes and finished with a -1, and overall if you watched the game, he was much, much better positionally and overall defensively sound. And lastly, in his game against Calgary, where he logged close to 19 minutes of ice time, he was the two-way defenseman Burke and company know he can be with a little work. He got to loose pucks in most cases, had limited turnovers, and even threw in an assist in a much improved offensive game too.
So, with those statistics in mind, combined with his poor defensive play this year so far, a question is begged: why has Franson’s play been so abysmal so far? In my opinion, the answer is simple, and it’s a more common problem than you might think. To me, he was just thrown into the fire too quickly, so-to speak.
Back to the keyword, patience really is the virtue with Franson. In time, with a little work, he can be what we all envision him to be: an offensively gifted yet more than defensively capable blue liner. He is still very young at 24 and just has to gain experience, and experience is only gained through patience and hard work. It’s almost a guarantee that as long as Franson stays committed and puts the work in, he slowly and naturally will polish up his game behind center ice. There will be growing pains, undoubtedly, but in time he will become what Brian Burke saw in him when he ranted and raved back when he acquired him.
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