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Matthew Lombardi has been traded to Toronto. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)
Matthew Lombardi has been traded to Toronto. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)

Leafs Beat

Leafs land Franson, Lombardi from Preds Add to ...







The happiest person in the Franson household Sunday, next to Cody himself, was his uncle Chris, a long-time Toronto Maple Leafs fan who, soon after his nephew was born, made sure he was decked out in a Wendel Clark jersey for his baby picture.

Franson will get a slightly larger version of that sweater now, one that will accommodate his 6-foot-5, 213-pound frame. Up until now, Franson was one of the NHL's best-kept secrets, a top-four defenceman on a defensively sound Nashville Predators team. But on Sunday, the Predators traded Franson, along with centre Matthew Lombardi, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two spare parts - defenceman Brett Lebda, who wasn't about to play a top-six role next season anyway, plus forward Robert Slaney, a 22-year-old who spent most of last year playing for Reading in the ECHL.

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It was a clear case of the Leafs leading with their wallets first. Nashville gave up Franson so that the Leafs would bear the risk attached to the $7-million (all currency U.S.) owed Lombardi on the final two years of his contract. Lombardi was concussed in the second game of the season for Nashville last year and is only now starting to show any tangible signs of improvement.

But in Lombardi's last healthy season - two years ago - he scored 53 points on behalf of the Phoenix Coyotes and was mostly playing as their No. 1 centre. If he can get healthy, then the Leafs may have made one of their finest trades in a long time.

Franson is the key addition, a right-handed-shot defenceman, who played on the second power-play unit with Nashville and is a poor man's Shea Weber. Both are from Sicamous, B.C., where they grow them big and tough.

Predators general manager David Poile was succinct when he explained the reasons for the trade: The uncertainty over Lombardi's health made it difficult for the cash-strapped franchise to do any long-range planning.

"We never like to give up young homegrown talent like Cody Franson," Poile said, "but have to give up something in order to put ourselves in position to do other things to improve our team."

On a conference call with reporters, Franson couldn't hide his enthusiasm for the deal, which he said caught him unawares, considering the strong season and even better playoff he had on behalf of the Predators. In fact, he called his uncle first and then his parents to notify them of the good news.

Lombardi wasn't quite as giddy, noting several times that his priority was getting healthy. Lombardi was concussed in just the second game of last season, playing against the Chicago Blackhawks, on a freaky play. He was tripped up, carrying the puck through the neutral zone, and wasn't able to protect himself and he crashed into the boards.

"It wasn't anything dirty," said Lombardi. "It was just a bad-luck play."

Lombardi noted that there were a lot of similarities between his injury and the one that cost the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron a year of his career. The recovery process was slow, uneven and painstaking.

"I really just stayed in the house," Lombardi said. "I couldn't watch TV. I had trouble reading. I've come a long way since then. My everyday [life]is getting back to normal.

"It's taken a long time, but I'm pretty confident I'm near the end [of his convalescence] I'm getting better."

Lombardi said his goal was to be ready for the start of training camp, two months away.

On Saturday, the Leafs bolstered their centre-ice corps by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5-million contract, after coming up short in the Brad Richards sweepstakes. Connolly was an unrestricted free agent, who played 68 games for the Buffalo Sabres last year, and has also had some concussion issues along the way.

But two years ago, Connolly and Lombardi were both second on their respective teams in scoring among players who played the entire season in Buffalo and Phoenix respectively. If they can return to those scoring levels, then the Leafs have solidified their centre-ice corps nicely over the weekend. The speedy Lombardi left Phoenix as an unrestricted free agent, signing a three-year, $10.5-million contract with Nashville. The Predators projected him as their new No. 1 centre to replace Jason Arnott.

The 23-year-old Franson had 29 regular-season points and six more in the playoffs - and had an exceptional opening-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. The deal also involves a conditional fourth-round pick. Nashville will acquire Toronto's 2013 fourth-rounder if Lombardi plays 60 or more games regular-season games over the course of the next two seasons, while Toronto will acquire Nashville's 2013 fourth-rounder if Lombardi does not play 60 games during the next two campaigns.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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