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Cody Franson (The Canadian Press)
Cody Franson (The Canadian Press)

Hjalmarsson deal lets Franson know where he stands Add to ...

When he ran the NHL Players' Association, Bob Goodenow loved to harp on one thing: Contract negotiations between players and their teams.

Remember, he would tell them (every chance he had), what you sign for affects every other player in the union.

A rising tide lifts all boats, was the idea. But it works the other way, too, which is what Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson must be thinking.

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There is no way Franson welcomed the news Wednesday that fellow defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson signed a five-year contract extension with the Chicago Blackhawks, boasting an average salary of $4.1-million (U.S.). While Franson can argue there are many similarities between himself and Hjalmarsson, the 'Hawks contract also gives Leafs general manager David Nonis plenty of ammunition to counter that Franson is not yet worth a long-term deal for more than $4-million per year, if that is really what he is after.

On the face of it, both Hjalmarsson and Franson occupy similar positions on their teams' respective bluelines. Both are 26, have four full seasons in the NHL - although Hjalmarsson has a little more experience (306 NHL games to 243) thanks to a couple of part-time seasons.

Both are coming off their best seasons thus far, with Hjalmarsson playing a key role on the Blackhawks defence in their winning drive to the 2013 Stanley Cup. Franson worked his way from fringe player to one of the Leafs' top-three defencemen by the end of their nice-but-ultimately-disappointing playoff run.

The major difference is how they play the game: Hjalmarsson is best defending his own end of the ice, while Franson became the Leafs' biggest points-producer from the back end last season (29 points in 45 games). He also had six points in seven playoff games.

There is no doubt Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle has big plans for Franson on the power play and as one of his top-four defencemen based on his breakout season. But that is where Franson's argument for comparison to Hjalmarsson ends.

In his four seasons, Hjalmarsson helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups. While Hjalmarsson's role in the 2010 championship was not quite as prominent as it was last season, he played well enough to attract an offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks (which resulted in a four-year contract with a cap hit of $3.5-million when Chicago GM Stan Bowman matched it). That contract expires at the end of this season, with the extension announced Wednesday kicking in for 2014-15.

This allows Nonis - who has somewhere around $6-million to split between restricted free agents Franson and Nazem Kadri thanks to this season's $64.3-million salary cap - to tell Franson he isn't quite ready for a career contract. His work so far is promising, but Franson still needs to show the consistency Hjalmarsson has to get the big money.

Since Franson did not file for salary arbitration, he is essentially in the same position as Kadri, the Leafs' other contract problem.

Unless he can attract an offer sheet from another team, Franson can either withhold his services or accept the short-term deal Nonis is offering (something along the lines of two years for a little less than $3-million per year).

Franson has not said what he plans to do, although he acknowledged last Tuesday a one- or two-year deal is a potential, albeit less-palatable, outcome.

Franson knows he will have a prominent role on the Leafs defence this season if he decides to report to training camp. So why not sign a one-year deal for something around $3-million? It is a handsome raise on the $1.2-million he made last season.

Then, if things go as expected, Franson will be positioned to top Hjalmarsson's salary (scoring defencemen always get more money) with a long-term contract next summer, when the NHL salary cap will probably grow by $6-million or more.

@dshoalts

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