On July 3, 2011 the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators along with Matthew Lombardi in exchange for Brett Lebda, Robert Slaney and a conditional draft pick. Franson was clearly the key piece to the deal as Nashville was looking to get out of Lombardi’s contract.
Lombardi had only played two games for the Predators after inking a three-year, $10.5 million deal as a free agent. Lombardi’s season was subsequently cut short by a concussion and coming into the 2011-12 season it was unknown whether he would ever play a game in the NHL again.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Lombardi’s status, the Maple Leafs accepted that liability for the opportunity to add Franson.
Coming into the 2011-12 campaign, there was plenty of hype surrounding Franson as he was coming off a good season playing as part of a very good defense group in Nashville. Given that he had only played two NHL seasons and that he was playing behind some high profile players (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter) there was a feeling the Franson was ready to flourish in a role with more responsibility.
Unfortunately for one reason or another, he did not get off on the right foot with head coach Ron Wilson as he found himself in the press box more often than not. One has to wonder why a player who played 80 games with one of the top defensive teams in the NHL the year prior could not crack the lineup on one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
When Franson did find his way into the lineup he had pretty good results. He ended the season with 21 points and a minus-one rating in 57 games. His rating was tops among all Maple Leaf defensemen.
With the trade of Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk, there is an obvious hole on the blue line and a clear opportunity for the right handed defenseman. However, as a restricted free agent, Franson still remains unsigned. The curious part about this is that there has been almost no discussion in the media about this situation.
From Franson’s perspective you can understand why he has not jumped at signing a deal with the Maple Leafs. He came into last season with expectations that he would be a big part of the Leafs’ present and future, but as noted, he spent a significant amount of time watching games from the press box.
We can be certain that he is looking for some kind of assurance that he will not go through that again this season. On the other hand, the Maple Leafs have a lot of money tied up in their blue line and are probably treading lightly before investing into another defenseman that they are seemingly unsure about.
There are only two likely scenarios that can come out of this:
- Franson signs a one-year deal with the Leafs
- The Maple Leafs trade Franson.
The Leafs would be wise to re-sign the defenseman as he is a big, mobile body that can be a contributor on the power play. He is also underrated defensively and can be an effective penalty killer. Seeing as he is only going to be 25 years old next season they would be foolish to give up on him at this point.
In terms of trading Franson, although he probably should be a desirable commodity given how he was handled last year, his perceived value is not very high. Since the return in a deal for him would most likely be insignificant, that is another reason for the Leafs to lock him up for at least one more season.
As we are now well into August it will be in both parties’ best interest to get something done prior to the start of training camp, which is quickly approaching. But one has to wonder how this situation is going to play out.