Skip to main content

Mirtle: Why the Leafs should make re-signing Cody Franson a top priority

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson takes to the ice during a training session as the Leafs prepare for the new NHL season in Toronto on Tuesday January 15, 2013.

The Canadian Press

It was the day after Pat Quinn's death late last month, and the topic in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room was understandably the legendary coach.

The team up for discussion at one point?

The 1994 Vancouver Canucks, an underdog crew that Quinn memorably led to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Story continues below advertisement

Good B.C. boy that he is, defenceman Cody Franson knew the team well – although not for the reason you'd expect.

The fact was, all those years ago, even growing up in picturesque Sicamous – where everyone was overjoyed at Vancouver's unexpected run – Franson was a Leafs fan.

And the Leafs lost to the Canucks in the third round that year.

"In 1993, I was sticking it to all my friends," Franson said of Toronto's playoff success the year before. "The next year, all my buddies were sticking it to me.

"I was one of the only ones cheering against the Canucks."

For all the talk the last few years about the disadvantages Toronto has when it comes to attracting free agents – the attention and such – Franson is the perfect example of how being what former GM Brian Burke called "the Vatican" of hockey cities can work in the team's favour.

He always wanted to be a Leaf. He loves being a Leaf.

And he hopes to always be one.

That still matters, even if these days the situation is a little more complicated than boyhood dreams.

Franson has had a fantastic start to the season, and that's a problem for the Leafs. He is a big, right hand shot who is only 27 years old, and he produces better than most, as evidenced by the fact he's tied for 12th in NHL scoring among defencemen.

Franson has also grown into a top pairing role, logging 275 of his 348 even strength minutes (80 per cent) alongside captain Dion Phaneuf so far this year.

Despite those minutes and some tough situations, when Franson has been on the ice, the Leafs have been a 50 per cent possession team, nearly 4 per cent better than when he's on the bench.

He drives play, and more than ever, teams are looking for that.

Story continues below advertisement

Why that's a problem is he will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1, and some team is going to look at all of the above and back up a Brink's truck full cash to his home on Okanagan Lake this summer.

A few things are immediately apparent when you look at this year's UFA class. No. 1, there's not much there. Of those that are there, Franson has more goals than all of them. He has more points than all of them. He plays more minutes than most of them. And he's younger than just about all of them, too.

Notice a pattern?

Add in the fact he's a righty – an increasingly valuable commodity given more than 63 per cent of defencemen in the NHL are lefties this year – and there'll be a lot of suitors desperate to shore up perhaps the trickiest position to shore up.

That's a list that includes the Leafs, given their depth chart after Franson currently consists of Roman Polak, Stephane Robidas, depth prospects and minor leaguers.

Save moving Phaneuf (a lefty) back to the right side, they'll need someone there, too.

Story continues below advertisement

The Leafs history with Franson is complicated. There have been three different contract disputes of various severity the last three seasons, with the player ultimately getting progressively larger one-year contracts of $1.2-million, $2-million and $3.3-million in successive years.

Even so, he has never felt particularly appreciated by management or coaches, and that's been with good reason.

What works in the Leafs favour is Franson wants to stay, and he has the type of personality to be able to weather the ups and downs and all arounds of the last few years. You can easily envision him putting the past in the past and signing long term, in the right circumstance.

Management could sell it as a new regime under new president Brendan Shanahan that had seen the light and that wanted Franson, along with Morgan Rielly, to help anchor the blueline for years to come.

Offering some sort of leadership role and the chance to wear a letter, even down the line, would also make sense.

He has that potential.

Story continues below advertisement

In that situation, it's plausible Franson would take a discount from the homerun he will hit on the open market. How big that discount might be is tough to forecast, but if the Leafs can get him under contract with reasonable term and for under $5-million a year, they need to strongly consider it, especially with Monday's news that the cap is expected to rise into the $73-million range.

A lot has been made of how tight the Leafs cap situation is, but they could shoehorn Franson in, even without radical restructuring. More foresight would have been better, as they could have had him under contract for less had they bought in long term earlier, but it can work, even at that kind of number, especially if they follow through on plans to play RFA hardball with Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri.

Up front, the Leafs can also potentially re-sign Mike Santorelli, Dan Winnik and Richard Panik to fairly inexpensive deals to maintain the depth they've enjoyed early this year, and the possible addition of 2014 first-rounder William Nylander will only help.

They can also easily open up even more salary cap space by making a trade and moving out someone like Joffrey Lupul (for futures) or even James Reimer (in favour of a cheap backup).

The Leafs aren't guaranteed to lose Franson here, especially not if they value what he brings properly. Shanahan has talked at length about wanting the organization to be better at growing its own players into assets that they can keep for a reasonable price, the way Detroit has for years.

Franson wants to stay, will probably take a pay cut to do so and appears to be blossoming into a dependable top four option in a league where finding those is increasingly difficult.

Story continues below advertisement

That's a player you keep.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter