How can Dave Nonis get Cody Franson under contract?

I incorrectly stated back in July that Cody Franson would be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014, which potentially explains why Franson didn’t opt for arbitration this summer. There is a chance that Franson would have earned above the $3.5-million threshold, had the Maple Leafs walk away from it, and become a free agent this summer, but signing a one-year deal doesn’t make sense for Franson, since there’s a chance he’s stuck in this very same process next summer.

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A player gets to unrestricted free agency by playing either seven NHL seasons, ten professional seasons, or gets to age 27 by June 30. Franson won’t be 27 until August 8, 2014, so he’s stuck for another year as a restricted free agent if he signs a one-year deal.

A few Leafs executives and players said things today and there’s a lot of white noise (more Nazem Kadri posturing—my take is here), but after the jump I’ll highlight a couple of tweets from TSN’s two insiders about Franson which are pretty interesting.

Here’s Uncle Bob:

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And here’s Cousin Darren:

I like Cody Franson, and I for sure think that he deserves a long-term deal, but if he got up to unrestricted free agency I think he’d have a much higher chance of cashing in. He has done nothing but be an above-average NHLer in every single season he’s played, but continues to find it difficult to lock down that long-term contract, and it’s possible he runs out of time until he gets seriously injured or slows down to some degree.

This is where deciding not to go to arbitration is a puzzling matter, even with the above explanation. Of the 21 cases that were going to go to arbitration this summer, none of them actually made it to the courtroom, with a couple of note (Mark Fraser, Sam Gagner) being settled on the courthouse steps. There was a good chance that the teams would use that added pressure to find some common ground. Franson wants years, and the Leafs want to keep the hit low so they can find a way to fit him and Kadri both under the cap.

Franson was one of just a few restricted free agents to head into the lockout without a contract, but he did sign a one-year deal right before the start of training camp. I think it’s unreasonable on Nonis’ part to expect Franson to acquiesce once again to the limited time frame, but I’m wondering if it’s perhaps possible for the Leafs to sign Franson to the one-year deal, then give him a contract extension on January 1, the day you’re allowed to extend players that are signed to one year contracts.

It’s still risky for Franson, but playing 41 games of injury-free, above-average hockey is easier than playing 82 games of injury-free, above-average hockey and the Leafs will have a lot more to work with next offseason with the salary cap going up and the buyouts of Colby Armstrong and Darcy Tucker finally coming off the books. There’s a priority to lock up Phil Kessel, and possibly Dion Phaneuf, and Jake Gardiner needs an extension, but it’s more likely that Franson will get $4-million or more starting in 2014 than 2013. The Leafs can’t afford a two-year deal and most teams have their rosters set for training camp and I can’t see a team giving him a two-year offer sheet to take him to unrestricted free agency. He’d have to come at a team-friendly price that doesn’t make sense for him at this point, but a team-friendly price could work on a one-year deal in the right scenario.

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It doesn’t appear that there’s any restriction on negotiating an extension before the window to extend arises (Evgeni Malkin agreed to an eight-year extension on June 13 of this year, despite Malkin being under contract for another full calendar year), so what may make the most sense is for Franson to sign for a year, with an agreement to get a four- or five-year deal later in 2013 provided he’s healthy and productive. Then the problem Nonis runs into is that Franson won’t play for free in 2013-2014 and should get close to $3-million in this scenario so locking up Kadri for the year remains a tall task without trading anybody else, but it may be possible.

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