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Trying to figure out just where—and even if— Cody Franson fits with the Maple Leafs…

I’ve written here before that, if I’m being really honest, by the time the lockout-shortened NHL season was finally about to get underway this past January, I could not possibly have cared less if Cody Franson was back with the Leafs.  Maybe I was just beaten down, as a fan, by the greed-driven labour dispute, and skeptical about the upcoming—and what would be a ridiculously short—season.  (Mentally, I've placed an asterisk next to the 2012-’13 season; I’m still not sure how valid it was…) But I remember seeing that Franson was playing in Europe, or wherever, and I thought, hey, we seem to have a lot of middlish guys like him on our blueline already, so whether he comes back or we plug that hole with someone else (names like Paul Ranger were flying around at the time), it is what it is. Whatever, I figured.

Now, with a new season just weeks away, I hope what I’m seeing about Franson—that it may be difficult to sign him, that he could be moved, etc.—is not quite accurate.

Given my earlier Franson-related ambivalence, let’s call it deathbed repentance on my part.

Let’s go back a bit.  I think it’s fair to say that most Leaf fans were thrilled when Brian Burke acquired Franson.  He had played some significant minutes as a young defenseman on a very good Nashville team for two seasons.  We all remember the highly respected Preds coach, Barry Trotz, saying during the 2011-’12 season that he wished he had Franson back on his blueline. (Franson, as a junior, had twice been to the Memorial Cup as a member of the Vancouver Giants, so he played in big games before he ever got to the NHL.)

But in his first season with the Leafs, under Ron Wilson, something did not feel quite right.  I seem to recall (am I mis-remembering, as Roger Clemens likes to say?) that Franson actually started the 2011-’12 season up in the press box, and had to earn his spot, though he had averaged more than 15 minutes of ice a game as a 23 year-old in two demanding Western Conference playoff rounds the previous spring? (I guess that was part of the “no entitlement” regime, which still lives on, sort of...)

Regardless, while Franson that first season showed flashes of why the Leafs went after him (Nashville had salary issues and had to move players, including Matthew Lombardi in the same deal), he was generally not quite the player I—and a lot of Leaf supporters—thought we were getting.

But this past season, Franson showed us all something.  Not a flawless defenseman, for sure, but he was a pretty steady presence on our blueline.  The fact that we finally had a defenseman who could shoot the puck on net (even those of us who liked Tomas Kaberle all those years knew he hated to shoot for some reason…and then there’s Dion…), well, that was kind of a breakthrough.  That he could slap it, use a wrist shot or just find some way to get it toward or actually on the net was like a newfound toy for fans.  That he managed 25 assists in only 45 games under a  coach like Randy Carlyle was something in itself, but he also seemed to find the physical presence and form that you generally like to see in most guys who are 6 foot 5 and well over 200 pounds.

Bottom-line: I usually felt fairly comfortable when he was on the ice this past season, including when paired, as he often was, with the surprising Mark Fraser, a clean but tough, hard-nosed, honest Leaf if there ever was one.

Franson played almost, what was it I remember seeing, 23 minutes a night in the 7-game series against the Bruins?  And he also put up six points and was a plus player against a very good Bruins side. Franson was a plus player in the regular-season, too, and took a grand total of four minor penalties all season long.  How many defensemen who play as much as he did, and with some physical aspect to their game, can say that?

The soon-to-be 26 year old from British Columbia would appear to be comfortable in Toronto now, and as a defenseman, especially, is in the very heart of his professional playing prime.  I have assumed—not being a fan that spends much time on cap issues and related roster realities—that he was penned in as one of our regular defensemen for this coming NHL season.  I don’t know if he will be a second-pairing guy but I saw him as at worst our number-5 defenseman somewhere after Phaneuf, Gardiner and Gunnarsson.

So here we sit with the Leafs still needing to sign a few guys before the season, with cap restrictions staring them in the face.  We know Kadri is in that boat (that will get done; he is a cornerstone piece at this point, though I’ve long believed he was almost traded any number of times in the past) but evidently so is Franson, along with Mark Fraser, who may be headed to arbitration.

Some Leafers love what Nonis has done this summer, and believe strongly that we are a better team heading into the new season (with Bolland, Clarkson, Bernier, etc.) than we were at the end of last season. Other fans aren’t so sure.  Regardless, Nonis is in charge (or at least he and Leiweke are), having just netted a somewhat mysteriously-timed five-year extension this past week.

Nonetheless, we are where we are.  We still lack the number-one center we all—if we’re honest and not just rose-coloured glasses hopeful—know we need to be a contender, along with that elusive stud defenseman.  But even setting those deficiencies aside, we also need to sign the guys I mentioned above.

I guess where I’m leading is: how indispensible is Franson for you?

Now to be clear, I’m one of the last fans—after years of decrying the absurd salaries that these guys take home—that thinks the Leafs should just pay all these players whatever they want.  But given the ways of the world and the way sports salaries have evolved (astronomically), I have to set aside my views on that one and try to step back and determine if Franson is a crucial piece in the Leaf puzzle.    Or would it be too costly to pay him (even if we could, given we are up against the cap, evidently), say, $4 million a season for the next who knows how many years?

My point is:  I like Franson as a player.  I thought he was a good young defensemen when we got him from Nashville in a salary dump move by David Poile.  You’ve heard me bemoan the Leafs mis-developing (is that a word?) young defensemen over my many years as a fan (Jim Benning, Gary Nylund, Al Iafrate are just a few examples that spring to mind).  As much as everyone loves James van Riemsdyk and hope Carter Ashton will be an impact player with the Leafs, I was not happy to see the Leafs deal away young defensemen who may be pretty good NHL’ers some day in Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie. (It’s been said a thousand times, but it takes some big, young defensemen many years to reach their potential at the pro level. It’s so hard to find and properly develop good defensemen;  sending them away makes not much sense to me…)

So I liked Franson when we got him; was not moved one way or the other a year ago, but see him as a valuable guy now.  But at what point are you over-paying for a guy of his ability and impact?

I’d be interested in hearing how others feel. Do we need to keep Franson at all costs?  Is 4 million a year silly money for a player of his ilk?  Would you be just as glad to see one of the aspiring kids take a protected-minutes role behind the Leaf defensemen we expect to play a lot?  Does the signing of Paul Ranger make you less concerned about losing Franson?  Would you like to see Nonis take advantage of Franson’s current (perceived?) high market value and see if that nets us help up front?

Let me know what you’re thinking on this one….

42 comments:

  1. Hi Michael

    I probably take a way to simplistic approach to the issue of defensemen, but in my own mind I just think in terms of guys you hope to contribute points and PP time and then guys who you want to be thinking about their own net first and at all costs.

    For me, Franson fits into the former category into which I'd also put Liles and Gardiner (with Phaneuf kind of straddling the two categories) and with Rielly coming up through the ranks in this camp also. Given that there appears to be little appetite for Liles either on the market or on behalf of our management to trade him, then Franson appears to be way more expendable than, say, Gunnarsson who in my opinion has a similar value to the team, but is a rarer bird.

    I like what he did for the team last year. Whether or not his scoring rate was sustainable across a full length season, he got the points on the board and at the same time formed a stable partnership with Fraser who otherwise seems a bit of a pylon. I think he's got every right to a contract around $3m per year.

    Given all of the above though, I just don't see us making room for him. I'd much rather keep Franson than Liles but, see above, Liles doesn't seem to be going anywhere. With Rielly coming through, I guess Franson's just the right guy at the wrong time.

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    1. Thanks KiwiLeaf. Your response is precisely why I'm asking the question. I'm probably in the same boat as you, wondering exactly where a guy like him, albeit with talent, fits right now. The answer could be: not at all. We'll soon find out...

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    2. I wonder about the attraction of Ranger with Franson and Fraser still unsigned. I have heard that his sabbatical from the NHL was due to depression. If he's been through that particular hell and come back to NHL standard with his enthusiasm and skill intact, then I wonder if he's seen as being a wise soul well placed to pair up with the kids as they come through.

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  2. I've been looking into Franson the last few days, and what impresses me about Franson is the level of his point production. He's been at or above a 30 point level for the last 3 years, one with Nashville and both seasons with the Leafs. In a given season there are somewhere between 40 and 50 defensemen in the league that can score like that (eyeballing it, it looks like the average is around 45). That's out of around 180 defensemen league wide. Hopefully he's given more minutes to determine whether or not he can assume more defensive responsibility and still maintain his point production.

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    1. As you suggest, mapleleafmjt, Franson seems to put up points at a very good clip for a defenseman. He has also evolved defensively, it would seem- at least to a degree. If he is not pigeon-holed as strictly an offensive defenseman, can he bcomee a valuable two-way defender for years to come- in Toronto or elsewhere?

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  3. I think Franson is already a valuable 2-way guy. I was reading his stats over at another site and came across these little nuggets. Franson finished 8th overall in points despite averaging 2 minutes less per game than the top 40 point guys as well as being scratched for three games. He was third overall in scoring at 5 on 5, so he isn't just a powerplay guy. He was third on the Leafs with hits behind only Fraser and Phanuef. This guy is a bona fide NHL top 4 dman. It boggles my mind that the Leafs are now in a cap situation where they could lose this guy, that's crazy. This is why I didn't like the Bernier trade or the Clarkson signing. They ate up valuable cap space for at best minimal upgrades with out addressing the true needs. If we all agree that the Leafs need another top dman to go with Phanuef and I think we do what happens when we trade our second best dman away? He's better than Gardiner defensively as well as a lot more physical and he's much better than Gunnarsson offensively. If we lose this guy who picks up that slack?

    To those who said the Clarkson signing was no big deal that it would be years before we felt the cap effects of a bad contract it took three weeks and we are feeling the pinch. Terrible asset management by Nonis. But hey at least Clarkson fights.

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  4. I can see 3 logical possibilities at this point for Cody Franson given the available cap space, given that Kadri must be signed and given that Fraser must be signed at the amount determined by the arbitrator.

    1. Trade him for draft choices or prospects.

    2. Sign him after trading Liles. They would have to eat some salary but it could be done.

    3. Play hardball a la Montreal - Suban and sign him to a one or two year transition contract with the promise of a higher long term contract based on future performance, as the cap rises. There is always the slight possibility of someone offer sheeting him but the result would be the acquisition of draft choices.

    I have mixed feelings about Franson. He has really only had one successful partial season and that was achieved playing sheltered minutes (a pretty good illustration of why +/- taken by itself is a pretty useless statistic). Franson is a bit of a tweener; adequate but not solid in his own end and on the rush. Franson boosters point to his scoring statistics but fail to mention his 2.6% shooting percentage and the fact that half his shots were blocked or missed the net.

    I see Franson as a player who is improving and could very well become a 2nd pairing defenseman if he develops more of an edge and tightens of his defensive game.

    If memory serves me correctly Franson proved difficult to sign the last two seasons and negotiations dragged on through the summer. If he is looking for $4,000,000 then he and his agents are being unrealistic. Carl Gunnarsson, a superior defenseman is being paid $2.85m, $3.15m & $3.45m over the next three years. This should be the benchmark for Franson and any more would be a gross overpayment based on his past body of work.

    As things stand now the only defensemen that I would pencil in as definites are the Phaneuf-Gunnarsson pairing and Jake Gardiner. I would like to see Gardiner paired with Franson but if he can't be signed I believe that Paul Ranger, who has played with Gardiner on the Marlies, would be a more than adequate replacement. The final pairing could be a sheltered one and could have Fraser (or Liles) paired with one of the youngsters such as Blacker (who had a fine 2nd half with the Marlies after he recovered from his injuries), Brennan or Granberg. Stuart Percy and Andrew MacWilliams are also possibilities somewhere along the line. I am assuming (hoping) that Rielly and Finn return to junior.

    If I had a choice I would prefer to keep Franson and sign him to a transition contract but I guess that's up to the player and his agents.

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    1. I'm hoping this one gets settled, Pete Cam. It just feels as though it would be a shame to have acquired the guy, and not be able to hang on to him just as he is entering his prime.

      As you say, he and his representatives have to be realistic/reasonable as well. He is not a proven All-Star or anything close to that, so if we're talking 4 million a year, that's getting to somewhat heady territory. (Of course, the Leafs are paying Bozak more than that over a long-term, and some see him as a third-line player. Defensemen tend to be more valuable than that...)

      Hopefully Nonis does not find himself between a rock and a hard place...thanks Pete.

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  5. Franson had an amazing season and I see no reason why he wouldn't repeat his performance next season and continue to improve. My point here is that I don't think we'd be selling high if we were to trade him now - we'd be wasting years of hard work both in Nashville and in Toronto that made Franson play the way he played last season.

    Where does he fit? - on the second pairing and definitely on the powerplay. As you said Michael - it takes a while to develop a big defenseman. That's exactly what the organisation has done with Franson and Gardiner - they weren't rushed and they were given sheltered minutes and they got to watch from the press-box when they made too many mistakes. Now they are finally beginning to be able to take some pressure off Phaneuf and even, in Franson's case, make him look inadequate.

    My point here is that the same process is gonna have to occur with Reiley and Granberg and other youg prospects before they are able to step into the full-blown NHL action. To get rid of a player that we nurtured all this time now that he's finally coming through and putting up points would be silly.

    Having said that, there is the issue of the team looking quite thin on the wings while having depth on defence and it would be nice if we could swing some kind of trade for a winger that could step in when Lupul gets hurt (which is pretty much a certainty). You gotta give some to get some and I guess we should be ready to part with a defenceman if we want some insurance up front. But I really hope it's not Franson - I think we need him right now. I'd rather part with a prospect or a pick and let another team invest time in developing them. Of course, if there are takers I'd rather lose Liles or Ranger or Fraser. In fact I'd love to lose Fraser and Liles - they are both mediocre players that can easily be replaced with other plugs for less money.

    I'm pretty sure it won't come to that however. I think we have just enough space to sign the remaining 3. Then, of course, we'll hope that between Kadri Bozak and Colborne we have what it takes down the middle and that our wings remain healthy.

    All in all, I guess what I'm saying is that I really like Franson and hope that he gets signed to a nice long-ish contract and this talk of trading him dies down.

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    1. Thanks leafdreamer. I like Franson, too, and I sense there could be "more" that he has to offer over the next three or four years. If this is just the usual "negotiating" between the two sides, no problem. But losing him - not to over-dramatize things - would seem unfortunate, as you note.

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  6. Well said, Willbur. As I mentioned to KiwiLeaf, this is why I wanted to put the question out there. Would some fans be upset if we somehow lost Franson? I've got your answer. Thanks Willbur.

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  7. Michael,

    Getting rid of Franson at this point in time would be a colossal error by a franchise that seems to make these kinds of bad decisions on a regular basis. As more and more time expires as a fan of this team, it appears to me that the right decision in hockey is to simply do the opposite of the Maple Leafs. Other than Phaneuf, Cody Franson was the Leafs most dependable d'man last year. In the regular season and the playoffs. Just because Gardiner played 5 good playoff games, doesn't mean he can do that over an 82 game regular season, let alone a long playoff run. Expecting Ranger to jump in and contribute to the team each and every game over 82 nights, is more wishful thinking on behalf of Leaf fans. We sure don't need an injection of optimism, maybe I do, but the rest of you more than make up for it.

    Lots of talk about Gunnarson in Leafs nation lately. To call him the teams second best d'man seems a little premature to me. He is hurt a lot and the rest of the time seems like a player who is best described as potentially good or great. Hasn't proven a thing to me at least. Franson did last year, a shortened season, yes, but he adapted his play to suit the new coach. Hoping that he continues to do so isn't that much of a stretch for me.

    To talk about Rielly making this team is ridiculous in my opinion. I would like to know where everyone thinks he would play? Ahead of Gunner, Gardiner, Fraser, or Liles on the left side? Or ahead of Dion, Franson, Ranger, Liles and Brennan, who they just signed?

    We'll just trade Liles then. If I was a GM I wouldn't touch that contract with someone else's cap number, let alone mine. Its an awful contract for a player that only managed to get into 4 playoff games as an over paid veteran, on a team making its first playoff appearance in about a decade. While I am playing armchair GM, its Kadri that I give the Subban treatment as an RFA, not Franson. He has very little power in the negotiating room as he has but one season to bargain from. One in which his production declined as the season, short as it was wore on. And his production in the playoffs was marginal at best. One goal in game 7. I like his potential to improve here, and with his next contract would be willing to pay him, two years from now, but not now.

    The fact that Nonis has put himself in this position is troubling to me. He has no legitimate number one centre and most people think the defence, even with Franson, is in need of a stud d'man, or a substantial upgrade overall. A marginal team that is life or death to make the playoffs should not be in this kind of cap purgatory. It may be just me but trading Reimer, and signing a veteran backup for the minimum seems to be the play to allow Franson and Kadri to be re-signed. Will hate to see him go, but that is the move that makes the most sense to me as I look at the Leafs chessboard.

    As a final question. Where is all the rejoicing that the team signed another goon/goonish type player to the squad? Welcome, Troy Bodie to the team. You are the next contestant on Face Punchers.

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    1. Good to hear from you, as always, Jim.

      While my views are a tad more optimistic, perhaps, I do see your perspective here. As with some many things when we are talking Leafs, just beneath the hopeful/positive 'surface' lurk certain realities that could see the "building" work of the past few years if not come crumbling down, then at least waver.

      Like you, I'd hate to give up Reimer, but I think that decision has already been made. It's a question of when, not if.

      I still think, if the Leafs stay healthy and play hard under Carlyle, they may be poised to make noise despite their roster holes. But I absolutely see how easily things could go south. Thanks Jim.

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  8. I'm going to sound like Dave Nonis:

    "I really like Cody Franson, but it has to be at price that works for the Toronto Maple Leafs."

    I think we are making too much of Cody Franson's performance in a shortened season where he placed 8th in points among defencemen. The season before he was 83rd in scoring. The season before that he was 48th

    Are we going to get another season in which he places 8th? Highly unlikely, I doubt he cracks the top 20. I would be elated if he got 40 points, but I think he gets closer to 35 points and there is no guarantee on that. He has never scored 35 points before.

    If I am Nonis, I offer a two year deal ( $3.0 million in the first year and $3.5 in the second for an average cap hit of $3.25 million) with a potential of a longer $4 million per year deal in the next contract if Franson continues to play more like defenceman who placed 8th in scoring rather than 48th or 83rd.

    Franson is still an RFA and either agrees or sits. Those are the rules. He can sit if he doesn't want that lucrative deal.

    If he doesn't want that deal, I give Morgan Rielly a look in sheltered minutes over 8 games spread though the first 20 games of the season. I also give Ranger and John Michael Liles increased ice time to see if thay can regain past form. Maybe I give some Marlie guys like Blacker a better look.

    The threat of an offer sheet on Franson is extremely low. Only 5 offer sheets in the last six years and six of the last seven offer sheets were done in July. The only exception is Ryan O'Rielly in a lockout shortened season. If it was going to happen it would have happened already.

    You also have to consider other teams cap space. Who could do an offer sheet? Only 15 team have 4 million or more in cap space. Lots of the remaining teams still have players to sign... so who is going to give an offer sheet for Franson?

    If I am Nonis, Cody Franson signs the proposed deal or sits and I don't even blink for the first 20 games.

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    1. Thanks DP. That is no doubt what Nonis is doing- negotiating, but recognizing that, in this instance, he has the upper hand. While players can get upset, the CBA has really shifted in their favour in recent years and these early-career contracts are the only time the teams have the hammer. Players can become free-agents at such an early age now. As you say, and I agree, over 3 million a season for a player like Franson is lucrative for a young player, whether they want to believe that reality or not.

      Again, I like the player, and I'd rather he stay and continue to develop in Toronto. But as you say, there are some options, as untried and as some of them are.

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  9. Like you, Michael, I wasn't all that enamoured of Franson two years ago. But, based on last season, I don't see any reason to trade him and would hate to see him go. I agree with Jim above - to my eyes Franson was easily our #2 defenceman last year, and with his apparent blossoming under Carlyle, why would we want to move him? Much as we all see Gardiner's upside, he's often a liability and hasn't shown he can go a full season yet. Gunnarsson was subpar last year, and we'll have to see if he gets healthy and bounces back. Ranger is an unknown quantity at this point - I hope he's recovered from whatever took him out of the NHL, but we'll have to wait and see how he does with the Leaf coaches and big league grind in Toronto. Fraser and Phaneuf both appear to be consistent, and we need Dion's big minutes (though I'd like to see them reduced a bit this year). Liles seems expendable to me, and I expect to see him traded at some point, particularly if Gardiner shows he's matured enough to handle a full load. As for the other "potentials", who knows? All we can do is hope for the best.
    Too often in the past we seem to have made moves based on wishful thinking rather than hard facts. Franson's stats bear out his value to the team. As you point out, defencemen take a while to come into their prime. Unless there's a terrible regression on Cody's part, I think he's coming into his best years.

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    1. The comments here today speak to the challenge in assessing (which is Nonis' job) a player like Franson. Different perspectives have been presented here, and I feel like I understand them all, though they differ.

      Hopefully the two sides can work out something so the player is "happy" and so is the team. If either isn't, the marriage won't last one way or the other. Thanks Gerund.

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  10. So much discussion for a bottom pairing,pp dman. Played extremely protected minutes during the regular season until injuries forces his way up the lineup. Two teams, three different coaches same bottom paired, pp dman. His skillset we could replace within our organization. We have a couple o minded dman in our stable.
    If he wants too much , let him go. We traded squat to get him, wasn't it Slaney,Lebna and a pick??. Trade him out of here. I will save my love for at least top 4 dman if not top 2, but bottom feeders...na thanks.
    I guess I might be in a different position, I feel the whole team is tradable, they havn't done anything . Are there a couple pieces I might keep, of course, but they are all tradable .Just make the team better when you do.

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    1. A sobering assessment, tans66!

      I probably see things a bit differently ((a couple of years ago I was probably closer to feeling pretty much anyone could be traded) but as I mentioned above to Jim, I can see how some Leaf supporters might feel as you do.

      Interestingly, Nonis strikes me as a GM that doesn't fall in love with many players, so he may well share the same perspective as you- though likely a more optimistic view when it comes to the overall quality of the team. Thanks tans66.

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  11. I am very optimistic within our team goal. Please do not confuse that with my opinion on a players .......can't let this guy go position ;)
    The road I have seen since Burke took over now into Nonis, I believe in my humble view has been positive overall. The team Burke envisioned back then is the team Nonis iced last year. I see a plan being executed. Will it work?? Sure fun last season in the playoffs, 7th game 10min to go. Against who?? BOSTON, lol theyed owned us up until last season. Pushed us around like men vs boys, embarrassing at times those scores and play. Not now..
    I like the direction the team is heading, I would still trade anyone to get better :)

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  12. Franson will be forgot by Rangers play. This guy is on a mission.
    I think Nonis overall is in a nice position. Figuring in what Franson is worth on the market, what was payed to aquire him. Has liles which can replace bottom pairing pp dman. So sign franson, liles go, trade Franson , Liles stays.
    Ranger is the wild card, freebie. A guy on a mission. Ranger will come into camp the fittest again, and not look back. Was a top 4 dman. I think he is the best bet out of all 3 ( Franson, Liles, Ranger)to impress us with a 2way game. Well hoping anyways...Franson or Liles . Well one is signed the other is not. In a perfect world , Franson stays, Liles goes. I believe Liles is tradeable. He better be, because if you can say Franson is a deal and tradable for 5/6 pp dman at 3-4 mil then so is LIles. Liles actually has better defensive numbers and can put up the points.
    So in the end if we "have" to trade Franson, I will not think the sky is falling. What a mess to just let him go, fire Nonis, or any other bashing cliche.Instead, he wanted too much for what he was worth, we had replacements, options waiting in the bush....we got market value for him..move on. Just a final note, this isn't the first time Cody's name and contract renewal has not gone hand and hand..

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  13. franson came up big in the playoffs against the bruins... he went from being a player that i was neutral about, to a player who i really hoped was on the ice as much as possible each game! i'm hoping the leafs are able to lock him up with a fair contract, because i think we only saw a taste of his overall skill-set so far. cheers!

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    1. Thanks for checking in on this one, Alex!

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  14. As I read your introduction, I knew I was almost in exactly the same boat as you. At the beginning of the shortened season, I could have easily watched Franson depart in a good trade, yet now that he has tantalized us with an anomalous season (in so many ways), I'm torn between the possibilities on the Leafs blueline for the foreseeable future and the 'sell high' perspective.

    For me both term and cap hit factor into my breaking point (along with a sprinkling of interest in how much he will continue to 'buy in' to the very elements of his game that began to manifest last season (i.e. physicality and defensive improvements).

    My interest lies in the perception of Franson's psychology... will he regress with a new long-term contract OR will he 'grow into' even greater possibilities. I hope the team has a good handle on how he handles carrots (does he need one in front of him, or does he have a high emotional quotient with the ability to delay gratification, despite a big pile of carrots right in front of him)? In a word, what 'motivates' him?

    I think Franson has received some short term contracts precisely because nobody has a clear fix on his 'ceiling' or his 'psychology' - the potential and possibilities are high, but uncertain.

    In this context, I think a bridge (1-2 year) contract is best for the team and maybe even for Franson as he matures. If it's too high and/or too long with too many questions for the Leafs, then a sign and trade may be in the mix.

    I doubt we'll ever know fully how to interpret what comes next (in light of the contract he receives), but I feel these may be some of the salient points under discussion.

    If he has to go, I expect a good return, but will miss the hopefulness I have for his future (not to mention a significant Right-side d-man that may be hard to replace).

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    1. Pete Cam and DP also suggested above a 'transition' or short-term deal this time around, or as you suggest, InTimeFor62, a 'bridge' deal to get him to that next opportunity for a big-money contract.

      I don't quite think he is as easily replaceable (he is an experienced NHL defenseman with upside) as some may think, but I recognize the Leafs should only pay so much. Difficult call...thanks, InTimeFor62.

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  15. A number of comments have stressed Franson's point total last season as the reason that he is a valuable player who should be signed. I have read the same argument put forth by many bloggers and commenters on various sites. Franson has always had the big shot and good passing skills but what impressed me last season was that he finally started really developing his defensive game. He developed an edge to his game and became difficult to play against in the corners and in front of the net. His defensive positioning improved markedly and he was rewarded with additional ice time not for his offence but for his improved defense.

    Goals and points are sexy. Just ask the Norris trophy and all-star voters. A lot of these high scoring defensemen get their points on the power play and against third and fourth liners and are mediocre at best defensively. One thing that I particularly like about Carlyle is that he demands that his defensemen are responsible in their own end and that he rewards them with increased ice time when they are.

    I was ambivalent towards Franson at the beginning of last season but became a supporter as the season wore on. He is still a work in progress but the more I think about it the more I think it would be a mistake to trade him.

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    1. I'm very much of the same view, Pete Cam. While you don't want to over-pay for a nice but not major impact player, he has shown capability in his own zone to go along with his offensive prowess. I'm not suggesting he is an All-Star in the making but if I had to guess, I would think he will improve, not regress, over the next three to four seasons. It would be a shame to see him prosper elsewhere, especially if any return for him was minimal. Thanks Pete.

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  16. I just read an interview of Dave Poulin by Alec Brownscombe at Maple Leaf Hot Stove where this interesting tidbit came to life:

    AB: I’ve read that there’s a buyout window that opens after an arbitration ruling. Is that the case?

    DP: Yes, that is true. Yeah, there is a buyout window, I believe it’s after the final arbitration date. There is an arbitration window that opens up, but it’s not a compliance window. For instance, if you were to get hit with an arbitration settlement that doesn’t fit into your numbers, you do have the right to exercise a buyout of whomever you would chose to on your team at that point. Not the player that you signed, or that you get the arbitration hearing on, it’s anybody else on the team that can be bought out.

    If I am reading this correctly, if Fraser is awarded a large number and the Leafs did not have the money to sign both Kadri and Franson, then they could exercise this clause and buy out any player (obviously Liles) on the roster with the exception of Fraser and free up the necessary cap space.

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  17. Leafs just avoided arbitration and signed Mark Fraser to a one year $1.275 million contract.

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  18. "Per Sportsnet Fan 590, the Maple Leafs and defenseman Mark Fraser have agreed on a 1 year deal for $1.275 Million, settling before the arbitration hearing that was scheduled for later today."

    I predicted $1.25 million so I was slightly off. Now sign Franson for $3.25 million and Kadri to $2.9 million in two year deals and all is good.

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  19. Also, according to Elliott Friedman, apparently the second buyout period also applies to any team that had a potential arbitration case, whether it actually went to arbitration or not. So if there is cap trouble, Leafs can make a move.

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    1. As Pete Cam also mentioned above, Sean, this opens the door to some potential roster pruning, it would seem, if I understand correctly.

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  20. With the signing of Fraser, I think we may just sign Kadri, first, for a reasonable 1-2 year deal (primarily because of the cap) then turn our attention to Franson.

    If Franson makes it clear he wants term AND salary that don't fit the cap at that point, I think management has a few options I had not considered previously.

    Of course, Liles could be waived, then picked up for nothing by a team that Liles might not otherwise accept (with his NTC) like to the Streit-deficient Islanders.

    If that option does not 'unfold', it doesn't seem like the Leafs could get a good return for Liles in a trade at this point - He needs to play in order to re-establish value on that market. It's rather obvious that a trade is the best option pertaining to 'asset management', however, what to do with Franson in the meantime?

    I believe Franson would be taking a big risk pertaining to the niche he has made for himself (if he insists on term and salary), but he could persist in that, despite opening the door for a prospect to take his place (leaving us free to trade him without even signing him).

    If he makes it clear to Nonis that he will not compromise, then there is an option I haven't seen elsewhere: what if we don't sign him and just let him sit for a few weeks/months while Liles plays and becomes the trade chip needed for picks/prospects that would open the door to the longer term contract Franson may 'command' (himself or by market perceptions).

    It'd be a risk in many ways, but is possible.

    The idea of an offer sheet to grab him, would still leave us with draft picks and relatively few teams with the cap space (or internal financial restrictions) who could make an offer this late in the game.

    If Franson ends up sitting, then the salary we could add to the cap on a one year deal (at least relative to salary per game played) that increases with every game not played, while waiting to sign... again, big risk for Franson.

    I'm just realizing why there seems to be less panic amongst management than amongst the fan base!

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    1. Management always has the hammer in these situations, for sure. That changes radically all too soon, InTimeFor62!

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  21. One other tidbit on an earlier thought (pertaining to the low caphit one-year contracts I suggested for Kadri and Franson): If it is possible to sign players to a longer term contract (almost) immediately following the one year deal, what is to stop the Leafs from paying a signing bonus on the second (longer term) deal at the time of signing.

    This would 'bump up' the amount received by both players immediately AND allow both to be signed for longer terms (into some of their UFA years).

    I don't know if there is a restriction in the CBA, but this feels like a creative (and non cap-circumventive) way to solve the current problem. Perhaps the delay in signing is even linked to a desire (on the league's part) to keep this particular strategy from being realized by other teams (conversely, it could be the Leafs who don't want to help other teams by showing their hand with such a strategy).

    In any case, I'm actually hoping this may be how we solve the dilemma... I look on with interested anticipation!

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  22. I think we should be looking at who plays what side

    For right defense (depth chart) we have :
    Phaneuf
    Franson
    Blacker
    Granberg
    *please correct me if I am forgetting someone

    On left defense (depth chart) we have:
    Gunnarson
    Gardiner
    Ranger
    Fraser
    Liles
    Reilly

    My thoughts on this are as follows (i'm trying to type this on my phone so i will try to be brief) We have way too many left defense and way too few right defense. Franson must be signed. If we want to contend we probably need him.

    So how do we make room. Well liles won't be traded unless he comes with anoce prospect like colborne or finn which would be tragic - or maybe we eat 1.25 mil of his salary lus a second and third round pick ? Someone phone calgary !

    I personally think we would have traded fraser had he not made himself untradable by goin to arbitration (new cba rules). Things being as they are Kulemin, Gunnarson could be sacrificed to make room for Franson.

    Keep up the good work Michael ! Love the site.

    J.Ash in Calgary

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  23. Interesting that we often think of Calgary when we want to sell our problems, eh, J. Ash!!??

    You make a very good point about our left side/right side issue. It's not always easy to solve those kinds of things. I'm struggling, as others have noted, to see how Liles gets moved. I don't see him being in high demand so as you say, if he were dealt, we might have to give up a promising young player and that may not be a very good idea.

    It's funny- as much as I have long had regard for Gunner (and to a lesser extent, Kulemin, given his uneven play the past two seasons) those are two names that keep popping up in my mind when it comes to who we may have to trade away to try and acquire some of what we need. Thanks for visiting, J. Ash- stay in touch.

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  24. The Leafs want move Liles first. He was another one of the guys that Carlyle didn't play much (sat out some games in the regular season, played 15:25 in the playoffs when you want your best players out there). Hope they can at least get something back from him unlike Grabo.

    Heard that a team can go up to 10% over the cap until the last day of training camp. What is the penalty after that?

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    1. Good question on the penalty relating to the cap, Ty. Maybe someone can fill us in....

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