Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk spoke for his teammates when he tweeted this Thursday morning: Always nice waking up to good news.
The good news was that Leafs general manager David Nonis took care of his last contract problem by signing defenceman Cody Franson, 26, to a one-year contract for $2-million (all currency U.S.). Franson is expected to report to training camp Thursday morning.
Franson was seeking a multi-year deal in excess of $4-million per year to reflect the fact he played his way to the top of the Leafs’ defence corps last season. He led the defencemen in points with 29 in 45 games and added six in seven playoff games.
However, Nonis had to grapple with the NHL salary cap and had little room to hand out big contracts to players like Franson and centre Nazem Kadri, who had not been in the league long enough to hit unrestricted free agency.
Kadri also wanted a big-money deal but finally accepted what is known as a “bridge contract” for two years at $2.9-million per year. Franson initially would not budge, then later said he would take a one-year deal for about $3-million.
Nonis did not want to give Franson a one-year contract because this would have left him with five defencemen becoming either unrestricted or restricted free agents next July 1: Franson, Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger.
After Kadri signed and then forward Mason Raymond agreed to a one-year deal for $1-million, Nonis was left with just under $1-million to spend to reach this season’s salary cap of $64.3-million, according to capgeek.com.
Nonis also wanted Franson to sign for at least two years so he could avoid going to arbitration with him next summer as a restricted free agent. This would have compounded his contract woes with the defencemen.
The general manager came around to a one-year deal by Wednesday, according to Darren Dreger of TSN, but only if Franson would sign for $2-million or less. Franson decided to take the deal, which is less than market-value for a player of his status, but another good season means he can cash in on a rich new contract when the cap is expected to rise to at least $70-million.
The Leafs are now a little more than $1-million over the cap, so Nonis will have to do some trimming before the season starts Oct. 1. One solution, which became more difficult after winger David Clarkson was suspended for the first 10 games of the season for his part in an on-ice brawl, is too carry one or two players less than the 23-man roster limit.