Twitter reports are trickling in saying the Leafs have traded Brett Lebad and Robert Slaney for Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson. The fact that the dreadful Brett Lebda is gone is a boon in itself, but Burke also managed to snag a very useful young defender in Franson as well.
From a Nashville perspective, it’s hard to make heads or tails of this deal. Lombardi missed almost the entire season last year with post concussions symptoms and it’s an open question whether he’ll ever get healthy enough to return. At the very worst, his $3 million cap hit will be on LTIR for the duration.
Franson, on the other hand, is an up-and-coming offensive defenseman. A former third round pick, the 24-year old is 6’5" and 215 pounds. He two 50+ years in the WHL and garnered 36 and 52 points in his rookie and sophomore seasons in the AHL. He made the Predators permanently in 2009-10, scoring six goals and 21 points from the back-end.
Franson was sheltered by Barry Trotz last year, facing some of the softest competition on the team and starting the most often in the offensive zone at even strength. His corsi rate still trailed that of Weber and Suter, but was still above water (+2.45/60). Every other NSH defender was in the red by this metric.
Franson remains a third pairing, second unit power-play type guy for now, but his size and success at other levels suggests a top-four celing. The best part is his salary of just $800k for the coming season. At that price, the Leafs will get value even if Franson doesn’t take another step forward. If he struggles to develop, Toronto can walk away at the end of the year by not qualifyng him. If he improves, the club can re-sign him for cheap. No-risk, high-reward.
The only potential reason for the Poile to give away Franson in this manner is to get Lombardi’s dollars off the books. The Preds are a franchise that always operate close to the margin, so peeling away $3 million in salary may have been the impetus for the swap. That or Franson insulted the owners mother. Either way, good news for the Leafs.
As I was writing this, James Mirtle reported that the Preds will receive a conditional 4th round pick if Lombardi plays 60+ games in Toronto this year. That’s a relatively small price to pay for a functional NHLer like Lombo who will add to Toronto’s center depth should be prove t be healthy.
All around a very shrewd swap by Burke. He rid the organization of a useless player, added a young blossoming defender and – potentially – a capable third line center.