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Franson signs; now let’s get Kessel done…

As much as many Leaf fans were seemingly prepared to go on (not as though we have any say in the matter…) without Cody Franson, I sense most of will privately acknowledge we would much prefer that he be here.  With his signing a one-year contract on Thursday, we now know we have the young but still fairly experienced defenseman for this upcoming season, at least.

For Franson, the one-year signing is ideal, as (if I understand his status correctly) he will soon be closer to the day he will be able to sell his services as a free-agent.  (I believe the Leafs wanted to lock him up for two seasons, but agreed to a short-term deal because it meets their cap reality.) My related guess is that Franson signed for a fair bit less than he wanted, but hopes he will make it up on the next go-round. I applaud him for taking that approach. If he plays as well as he has shown he sometimes can in previous seasons here and in Nashville, he should score nicely down the road as a UFA.

In any event his signing will make for an interesting next few days at Leaf camp.  The blue and white still have plenty of defensemen in camp, but as agitated as Carlyle may be that Franson has missed virtually all of training camp, let’s not kid ourselves: if Franson is in shape and healthy, he will play.  It would be asinine to punish the guy for pursuing his contractual rights, even if it led to a holdout.  He needs to play and play big minutes as soon as he is capable for this squad to be as sound as it should be.

Now, how this impacts (we know it won’t affect Phaneuf, Gunnarsson or Gardiner) the other Leaf defensemen, I don’t know.  We have Franson’s old partner (Fraser) very much in the mix, of course.  Then there is Liles, who everyone wants to trade, it seems.  That does not even include Paul Ranger, who most Leaf observers have penned in as a significant addition on the blueline.

That’s seven guys—all eager to play.  If all are healthy (never any guarantees there), it’s a “good” problem, but it still will lead to frustration for the guy in the press box on game days.

And all that does not take into account Morgan Rielly or any other Leaf hopefuls who were trying to slide into a spot on the back end.

But my bigger thought today is, let’s go the next step when it comes to signing key players.  Those who visit here know I have said for some time that we need to get the Kessel extension done before the season starts, particularly since the player himself has claimed (not that he wouldn’t backtrack on those comments) that he has no interest in negotiating during the regular season.  If that really is the case, that would mean Kessel, if un-signed by next Tuesday, would almost certainly test free-agency next July—not an outcome that would likely favour the Maple Leafs in their bid to retain the high-scoring first-line threat.

If the Leafs don’t want that possibility staring them in the face, they need to sign the explosive winger—now. (There were media reports on Thursday that the Leafs were engaging Kessel’s representatives to kick-start serious talks, so I assume there is some validity to those stories.)

You’ve heard it from before—I loathe monster contracts, especially those that carry on beyond four or five years.  So much changes for most athletes as they age in terms of their productivity.  But given Kessel’s age (25) this one has 8 years and, say, 70 million written all over it.  Since that is the way of the world in professional sports, I won’t fight it any more.  The guy is going to get his money somewhere.  If the Leafs really believe he is a cornerstone guy, the essential building block for the future, they need to sign him.  Did I say now?

But how about from your perspective—do you see signing Kessel in the next few days as essential, or can it wait?  Are you prepared to see the Leafs let this linger and take on the related risk? And as importantly, how much is he "worth"?


  1. Hi Michael

    Well, I am extremely pleased to be wrong about Franson: I thought he was a goner for sure. Getting him for the $2m means they can probably dress 23 players too, which has seemed in doubt at times.

    As for Kessel, the only reason I can think of that might lead them to wait on negotiating his next contract would be if they felt he'd be more hungry with something to prove in his contract year. In other words, if they extend him now, will his foot come off the pedal? I have no answer to that, much of it would depend on whether he likes playing in Toronto one would imagine.

    If both parties are keen to engage now though, some quick extrapolations based on a 5% increase in the cap next year means (I figure) we can afford to offer him $8m/yr. And, yes, I think he's worth it.

    1. Good post, KiwiLeaf. There seem to be so many risks in letting this drag on through the season. If he has an outstanding campaign, what will it take to sig him?

      My guess is he will sign- soon. The Leafs want to make it happen. Thanks KiwiLeaf.

  2. Although I think 8/70M is a bit high, I think Kessel will soon sign for 8/64.8... why? Because it's an 8.1 M cap hit that both matches his #81 AND because the team already signed Bozak to a 4.2M deal... I think they both 'like how that looks'...

    I think it'll wait thru the weekend and be finalized in time for the first game of the season!

    Also glad to see the Franson signing at the # he got and think it appropriate for the team to bend on their 2 year desire... this way Franson stays an RFA but regains his arbitration rights that should help him with the next contract if he has a good season. His right hand shot is a welcome presence on the blueline... looks to be paired with Fraser to begin (Ranger with Gardiner), so I'm thinking Rielly will be sent back down, unless Burke's recent visit portends a Liles trade. Burke would want a good community service guy, believes in Liles and needs a puck mover in Calgary, unfortunately, I think he would demand Colborne. The only way I see us keeping Joe is if Nonis counters with wanting Monahan (though we'd probably have to include our first rounder to get him in such a deal).

    Still lots to watch over the next few days.

    1. Given cap and related considerations going forward, there could well be some player movement in the days ahead, InTimeFor62. Let's see if your penchant for intriguing trade possibilities proves true!

  3. Getting Franson done is great for two reasons. One Franson is a very good hockey player and the Leafs are a better team with him than without. Secondly, Reilly is almost certain to go back to junior now. Even if they wanted to keep him, it is almost impossible to fit him under the cap now. Barring some kind of major salary dumping trade Reilly goes back to junior.

    The Leafs need to shit or get off the pot for lack of a better term. They have to decide which player they want Kessel or Phanuef. Even with the salary cap likely to go up next year it will be very hard to get both guys signed to the big money contracts they deserve. Kessel is an elite offensive forward in the NHL. His points over the last five years stack up against any player in the league. He is going to get big money for 7-8 years no question. His cap hit is likely to be in the 7.5 to 8.5 per year right where elite forwards get paid.

    Phanuef is likely to get a raise on what he gets paid this year. He won't be taking a pay cut like so many Leaf fans think he should. Is he perfect, no but he is pretty darn good. His defensive game has holes but he also plays against the best night in and night out. His offense is elite. He finishes in the the top 10 points amongst defense men every year. He is going to get 6.5 (where he is now) TO 7.5.

    The Leafs need to choose which one they want and which they are going to trade. Myself, I say sign Kessel he is younger and I think he will produce at a higher level for more years to come. It'll hurt to loose Phanuef but we do have two blue chip dmen coming. One, Gardiner is already here and Reilly will be in a year. We are stronger long term at the blue line than up front where there is no one with the potential to replace Kessel. So we resign him amd move forward from there.

    1. It's interesting, Willbur. I remember writing a post here some weeks ago on that very topic- who would Leaf fans choose if they had to pick between one of Phaneuf and Kessel?

      I guess we'll see if that column rings true in the not too distant future. Thanks for providing a perspective on the Kessel side of the equation.

  4. Nonis just pulled off what seemed impossible. I am truly impressed. Cody and Nazem just just took a huge hit each because they want to play in Toronto and for Carlyle and Nonis and if Nonis learn anything from his mentor he will remember the favour and reward both these players with nice contracts as soon as the caps allows him to. I'm literally jumping up and down like a little kid right now having heard the news that Franson signed and is going to join the team on the opening night.

    On to Kessel - I'm not worried. Nonis just did Phil a big favour by signing his chosen center for term and amount that makes him happy and Phil cannot get an 8 year contract from anyone other than the Leafs - he will sign for sure (probably in the next few days because Nonis is on a roll). Even if they decide to hold off on the deal I have no doubt that it will get done next summer - the only reason I can think of that would make them wait is if Leiwike intervenes and insists that the media needs to sell stories and refuses to allow things to go too smoothly. I know - it sounds sinister but I wouldn't put it past him or Bell/Rogers. The problem with that scenario is that a lot can happen in a year, namely, Phil may get ticked off and disgusted by the media and say screw it, I can't take this anymore... This is very unlikely to happen though.

    In other words, my word is don't worry about it - Kessel wants to play in Toronto and Nonis definitely wants him to play in Toronto and the deal is probably already in place - it's just a question of when the pen is put to the paper.

    I think it's gonna be a great season for the Leafs - deep in the playoffs for sure, maybe a Cup. I'm excited!

    1. I'm maybe not as hopeful that Kessel's representatives will want him to sign here because Bozak is here, leafdreamer, but we'll find out in the days ahead. Most players want the biggest contract they can get. This will be Kessel's one chance in the prime of his hockey life to hit a grand slam. So we'll see! Thanks leafdreamer.

  5. I believe Kessel will be signed very soon and I don't blame him one bit if he denies negotiations have begun. It takes time to work out deals and he doesn't want it to become the next big story. That's when it truly becomes a distraction. We all saw what Kadri went through with reporters throwing out numbers willie-nillie and daring- no! actually goading!- him to deny them. I felt for Nazim. I'm sure Phil will want to avoid that sort of attention. I'm recalling the very quiet 5 year extension for Lupul.
    I'd like to keep Phaneuf as well. I don't see anyone even close to taking over for him and if they do I see his game improving. I think he cares a lot, plays too many minutes and tries to do far too much, mainly because he partners with very inexperienced defencemen. I also think he's a better captain then he's given credit for and I've seen many examples of his leadership on the ice. I know many don't agree with me but I really like Phaneuf and hope we can keep him. C.N.

    1. I think most Leaf supporters would agree, C.N., that they'd love to keep both Kessel and Phaneuf. While there has long been doubts about both players (and fairly so at times, to a certain extent, based on their play in their earlier days wit the club) both have continued to demonstrate something special in their Leaf tenure.

      If Nonis can make it happen, financially/cap-wise, I doubt many (any?) Leaf fans would be disappointed. Thanks C.N.

  6. Over the past few weeks Dave Nonis has come under harsh criticism, particularly from bloggers at other sites, for mismanaging cap space. I have read that it was stupid to sign Orr, McLaren, Bozak and Bernier because then Kadri couldn't be signed, that Franson couldn't be signed. Now, when all is said and done, all the aforementioned players have been signed along with the added bonus of Mason Raymond. Nonis, in my opinion, deserves a huge amount of credit for a job well done.

    Hindsight is 20-20, but I think that what should be apparent is that those of us who love the Leafs and comment regularly simply do not have all the facts. We have our opinions (and that is the fun part of it) but in the long run they are opinions based only on information at hand and in some cases laced with a good deal of emotion.

    Nonis has done a great job in the short time he has been GM but he has a tough road ahead with numerous RFA's and UFA's to sign for 2114-15 and beyond and an undetermined salary cap. I believe that he has two vital signings that should be taken care of immediately; Phaneuf and Kessel.

    I believe that Phaneuf is underrated by many Leaf fans. I have heard some call him a pylon which is absolutely ridiculous and ignorant. He logs big minutes (25:11 ATOI last season) against top opposition players. Last season he was paired with rookies Kostka and Holzer as well as a less than 100% Gunnarsson. He plays on the powerplay and kills penalties. The Leafs simply do not have anyone who can replace his minutes and although we have some great prospects coming along the reality is they are some time away from a Phaneuf type contribution. Consequently I would like to see him signed to a 5 year contract in the $6.5 to 7 million range.

    Phil Kessel has evolved into a point a game player. He is a vital cog on the powerplay. He is an accomplished passer, much better than he is given credit for. He is a sniper with an extremely accurate shot who I believe will become a consistent 40 goal scorer, particularly with the emergence of van Riemsdyk.. He has also become defensively more responsible under Carlyle. He is, in effect, irreplaceable and should be locked up long term as soon as possible. I would like to see a 5 year $35 million contract but given the contracts handed out lately I think a 7 year $56 million contract is more likely.

    1. You're quite right, Pete Cam, most of us on the "outside" can opine on various Leaf issues, but we really don't know what's going on. We can guess, we can speculate, we can play with stats and financial numbers, but the people who truly know actually work for MLSE. That doesn't mean that coaches of GM's don't or cant screw up, or that we don't have the right to lob volleys their way, but yes, we should recognize that disconnect.

      I hear you on Phaneuf. I sense he has grown on a lot of Leaf supporters in terms of the the respect they feel for him as a player, and even regarding his captaincy. I'm maybe a bit more of a late adapter on all that, but I certainly see his value.

      Most agree Kessel is an essential signing. He is young and it's rare to have the opportunity to lock up a player that age without losing assets to make it happen. Thanks Pete.

  7. Hi Michael,

    Although, Kessel says he won't negotiate during the season, I think it is more of a roost and a warning shot to the Leafs management. The reality of the matter is that there won't be much negotiating when the deal is actually signed. This is a guy that WILL get whatever he demands and is well aware that the Leafs or anyone else will give it to him when he is UFA. There is really no reason for him to sign now if the leafs are not giving him max terms and dollars. Even at that, he would still likely want to see where the season is heading in terms of team success. The only selling point is to convince him that by not signing soon, it will become a distraction and he will get an additional year along with guaranteed rooming with Bozak. Ideally, if Nonis can sign Kessel to a max term at $7.5, it would be credit to him to allow the Leafs something extra to deal with next year. But even at max dollars, he should be signed as soon as he is willing. To gauge his importance to the Leafs, we just need to review his goals last year. The majority of which were go ahead or insurance goals. Only a few were irrelevant.

    Nonis is in a difficult position. The uncertainty of next year's cap along with all the impending RFA and UFA makes projection difficult hence Franson's difficult negotiations. You can't really say either party was unreasonable. Franson is undervalued in terms of market value but the Leafs could not do much otherwise. It will even be more difficult next year to get everyone under the cap. Even with a projected $70 million cap along with some buyout and retained contracts off the books, they will still need to shed some salaries to sign all the RFA's and UFA's which leads to Liles.

    Unless the leafs is willing to do the Nashville to Leafs Lombardi deal and give up a prospect, it will be next to impossible to trade Liles at this point. Not that Liles is a bad player, he is just paid too much in comparison of what the Leafs already have and no team will come to the Leafs' rescue. To realistically trade him, he needs to play this year and play well.

    It will be interesting to see how Nonis deals with this but I am confident this guy will get it done favourably. At the end of the day, it is however a nice asset problem to have.

    1. We could have far, far worse problems, indeed, Lukas. In previous seasons, notably over the past decade, we have had an issue of not enough talent. While we still have needs, we are much better off now, for sure.

      As for Kessel, you raise a good point. While his actual goal production (not necessarily his play, or effort, as I have noted here many times before) can sometimes be categorized as streaky, that he generally scores timely goals is in fact crucial.

      My sense is fans are coming to see Nonis has had a plan and has been largely able to follow through on that plan- so far. More to do, but a hopeful beginning to a new season. Thanks Lukas, great post.

  8. Michael, I'm off topic here but I would love to see a discussion about John Michael Liles on Hotstove.
    I rather like him as a fairly safe veteran option on defence in spite of his size. If we want to move him at some point it won't happen if he's a healthy scratch every game. I would love to hear your opinion. C.N.

    1. Interesting that you raise that, C.N. - we'll never, it seems to me, get anything in return for him (or even be able to move him) unless we give him a chance to play and he shows well. Being a healthy scratch nets us nothing. Not sure what Nonis will do here...