Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators continued preseason play in Toronto. The Leafs didn’t come out with the win, but the fans may have just gotten their first look at what could be their opening night defensive pairings. The top pair? The old reliable pairing of Carl Gunnarson and Dion Phaneuf. 3 and 4? Jake Gardiner and Mark Fraser. And the bottom pair? Newcomers Morgan Rielly and Paul Ranger. While fans are certainly satisfied to be getting their eyes on super-prospect Morgan Rielly and the always exciting Jake Gardiner after a long, painful offseason, there is a giant, 6’5″ sized hole on the Leafs defence. Restricted free agent Cody Franson is still unsigned. The only right-handed defenseman with any business playing NHL minutes for the Maple Leafs, Franson certainly has been a glaring omission from the lineup night in and night out this offseason. But when might we see him back in the blue and white? Will we? Let’s take a look at the situation involving Cody Franson.
Weight: 212 lbs
2012/2013 Season: 45 gms, 4 g, 25 a, 29 pts, 8 pim
Cody Franson was acquired in a cap-related move between the Leafs and Predators in the Summer of 2011 after a successful season playing in the defensive-minded system that Barry Trotz employs in Nashville. That season he matched his career high of 29 points from this season (bear in mind, that was in 80 games), and established himself as a top four NHL defenseman behind perennial all-stars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Expected to come in and have a big impact on the Leafs back-end, Franson found himself relegated to the pressbox regularly under then-Head Coach Ron Wilson. Franson only drew into 57 games that season but still managed 21 points. Following that season, he spent time in the SHL with Brynas of the SHL during the lockout. Franson quickly signed a US $1.2M dollar deal, participating in a truncated training camp, before embarking on what was considered his breakout season. Under Randy Carlyle and paired with a physical and defensively-minded partner in Mark Fraser, Franson flourished. He racked up points, became more responsible, and stepped up his game in the playoffs, scoring twice in the Leafs famous game seven loss to the Bruins. Since then he has been embroiled in a contract dispute that has seen precious capscape dwindle in favour of Nazem Kadri and Mason Raymond.
What We Do Know
As of September 25th, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a hair less than US $1M in capspace. Obviously there are moves to be made involving potential minor league players like Trevor Smith and Korbinian Holzer, but even with those players assigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies the team still only has $2.3M in potential capspace. This also assumes the Leafs are comfortable travelling with a 21 man roster (22 with Franson), and risking pretty serious roster issues in the event of minor injuries.
In terms of contract demands, we know that Franson at one point was seeking a multi-year deal. His stance was defendable, with similar players such as Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders receiving multi-year contracts. The Leafs themselves have a low cost, two-year pact in mind. This would keep Franson’s salary on the low-end, while simultaneously giving them a level of continuity in their d-core as much of the Leaf’s back-end is up for renewal following this season. Franson has since then reportedly countered with a one-year deal which would see him walk into arbitration this offseason and potentially into a large reward. The very act of electing for salary arbitration generally results in more leverage for the player which makes it very surprising that Franson opted to waive his arbitration rights this offseason.
Option #1 – Cody Franson re-signs for two years at around a $2.5M dollar caphit.
The Leafs waited out Nazem Kadri and they show no sign of caving to Cody Franson. With the signing of Paul Ranger, and the now-nearly expected promotion of top prospect Morgan Rielly, the Leafs can afford to wait out Franson who has the choice of sitting out, going to Europe (which exposes him to waivers), or playing ball and signing with the Leafs near the conclusion of camp.
Option #2 – Cody Franson signs an offer sheet.
One would think that the Leafs would match any offer sheet below $3.3M dollars seeing the compensation would only net the Leafs a second round pick. Any offer above that threshold results in the Leafs receiving a first round pick, something one would think they would consider thoroughly. Offer sheets are exceedingly rare and probably wouldn’t be considered until the league mandated December 1st deadline for signing restricted free agents like Franson.
Option #3 – Cody Franson is traded.
One would think that their would be a hefty amount of interest in a 6’5″ defenseman with a hard shot and strong offensive instincts. This option could be triggered by a traditional trade, or a trade forced by an offer sheet, which opens up a potential week long window for the rights holding team and the offer sheeting team to make a hockey trade.
Regardless of which option goes down, one would have to think that Cody Franson will be playing NHL somewhere hockey this year. With the Leafs capspace issue getting more complicated by the day, it feels less and less likely that a deal will get done with the Leafs. Until then, the Ryerson Rams have a big defenseman, with even bigger contractual problems on his mind, to share the ice with.