Oilers and Franson: What’s Taking So Long?

Recently I wrote an article asking the question, what is taking the Oilers so long to work out a deal with Jaromir Jagr? It was a somewhat rhetorical question in that I’m well aware the Oilers as an organization may have determined they have no interest in an aging Jagr. So too, Jagr may have other things on his mind than to accept a contract to play in Edmonton.

Full disclosure, I’m a Jagr fan and it would be almost surreal to see him in an Oilers’ uniform. Still, I’m not completely sold Jagr is the right answer for the team given that there are young players who are ready to break out and might just need the opportunity to do so.

Jaromir Jagr (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Still, it struck me as odd that such a talented player with such a historic past in the NHL is sitting on the sidelines waiting for an NHL deal. Under the right circumstances, there are a lot of positives that could come out of a Jagr in Edmonton scenario. That got me to thinking… who else might be out there?

One player always in the conversation is Cody Franson.

Franson: The Player

For some reason, Franson never gets a deal at the start of free agency. He’s like the kid who gets picked last on the baseball team in school. Sometimes that kid is a decent player, but for whatever reason, he’s never anyone’s first choice.

The main reason seems to be that Franson doesn’t always play quick, he doesn’t always play physical and he isn’t always productive, even though it appears he could be effective in all three areas. He’s got a pretty attractive history in the NHL, having come from the defensive-machine that is the Predators organization, but once he left, his game was extremely inconsistent. Despite that, he’s got an aura about him that if he cared, he could be capable of putting up some numbers offensively.

Could Franson rebound from a poor 2016-17 season? Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

His best two seasons offensively were in Toronto with the Maple Leafs where he scored 33 points in 2013-14 and 36 points in 2014-15 (four of which came with the Preds). He was a potent weapon on Toronto’s power play, had some pretty decent possession numbers and played significantly more minutes per night than he’s done in the last two seasons.

In addition, for every team he’s played, Franson has had a positive influence on possession. Always on the plus side of the Corsi Relative 5-on-5 benchmark, he’s been able to post positive results despite more defensive zone starts. He posted a 50.7 percent with the Sabres in 2016-17 and this was during what many consider to be his worst season in the NHL and on a fairly ineffective team.

Franson: The Value

Last time Franson hit the free agent market, he held out and got a multi-year deal. This summer, while Kevin Shattenkirk was the clear top get in free agency, it was a toss-up between Franson and Michael Stone as the second and third-best defensive options. With only Franson left on the market, he’s the head of the remaining class. Logically, you’d think a team would have come calling with a $2.5 – $3 million deal over a couple years. That hasn’t happened.

Either Franson is holding out for more money or teams are scared off from his tenure with the Sabres. With rumors he’ll be headed to Chicago’s camp on a professional tryout (PTO), does that rule out the idea that he’s waiting for a bidding team to come in at the end of the summer like Buffalo did a couple years ago? Or, is Franson merely making plans in the event that no team calls? A PTO does not obligate Franson in any way to the Hawks and he can leave the minute a team offers him an actual contract.

The Edmonton Oilers might want to ask the question, could a one-year, $1.5 million deal get it done? If so, would be effective?

Franson: The Drawbacks

When Franson signed his two-year deal with the Sabres in the summer of 2015, people were a bit surprised it took so long. After his previous season, he seemed like a viable option for a lot of teams in a relatively weaker free agent class of defenders. Apparently, other teams knew something Buffalo didn’t as his time with the Sabres was not the best of his career. In fact, they were among the worst.

He lost his spot on their power play, he didn’t look interested and he never seemed to settle into a consistent role on any regular pairing. It was almost like he was waiting for another crack at free agency.

Those are some serious red flags and potentially a reason he’s yet to find a home.

Franson: The Verdict

Sekera is out with a long-term injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers have a major injury to one of their top-four defenders. Andrej Sekera being out is a significant blow to the blue line corps and it makes sense there would be concerns. Kris Russell is now the de facto leader of that second unit defensive pairing and that has many worried.

However, the Oilers appear to have confidence in Russell and in the players who will slot in along side him in Sekera’s absence. Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse are going to get every opportunity to take the next step in their development. This appears to be the crossroads moment that the franchise is prepared to let them sink or swim.

With that in mind, if the Oilers struggle out of the gate and Franson doesn’t find a home, if might be wise to have his number on speed dial. He’ll make virtually no dent to their cap and his career in the NHL could depend on how effective he is.

It’s a solid bet, but the Oilers want to see what Benning and Nurse can do. That’s what’s taking so long.