Franson Deal Unorthodox In Structure

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As you’ve probably already read on one of the various media outlets (possibly on The Leafs Nation courtesy of resident handsome man Justin Fisher?), the Toronto Maple Leafs and Cody Franson have settled ahead of arbitration, ultimately agreeing to a 1-year, 3.3 million dollar contract. But how does he stack up to his peers?

Here’s the thing; this deal doesn’t exactly give him many peers.

I decided to sweep the league for defencemen over the age of 24 who, when signing their deals, still looked ahead to restricted free agency. As well, I looked for deals under 3 years, which brought their subjects to unrestricted free agency. Lastly, keeping things actually comparable, the cap hit had to be between 3 and 3.5 million dollars. The results? There are three of them in the entire league: Franson, Jeff Petry (1 year at 3.075), and Jason Demers (2 years at 3.4).

It’s not hard to gather why there are so few players in similar situations. When you’re at the “not depth, but not star” skill level and you approach your mid-20s, the team that possesses your rights typically has a general idea of how they see you as a player, and will either commit to you for decent term, or trade you to a team that might while your value is still pretty high. The exception to this rule are players that have inconsistent or slow development curves that make their approach to this skill level sudden.

Petry and Demers both fit this description. The former had an impressive offensive year relative to his experience in 2011/12, but hasn’t shown the same promise since, nor has he convinced his coaches to pump him from the high 21 minute per game mark. Demers, on the other hand, has been in and out of San Jose’s lineup for the past five years, but was mostly used as a depth defenceman until a sudden blossoming this season.

Franson’s situation is a bit different, in that what the Leafs can get out of him is pretty well known, but they aren’t sure how to fit him into their long-term mix. He doesn’t appear to have the mobility to fit on a high-minute pairing with Dion Phaneuf, he doesn’t play the shut-down game that they’re looking for from the bottom pairs, and the team seems more interested in Morgan Rielly and/or Jake Gardiner in terms of offensive play in the coming years. As such, both sides, have found themselves in an annual stalemate.

It’s hard to realistically see Franson sticking around beyond this season, if he even makes it to the start of the year. The Leafs are still free to trade him at any given point, and if they find a fit that suits one of their perceived needs, may still do that.

As for how he actually compares to Petry and Demers? Well, he’s definitely stronger offensively, outscoring both of them in all but one year of their careers (Demers last year, Petry in 11/12). Bringing production down to even strength rates, Franson trailed Demers last year, but was ahead of them both in every year prior. This is despite the others having more favourable zone starts over the bulk of that timeframe.

Franson is also the only one of the three to have positive relative possession numbers in all of the past four seasons, though all three of them seem to be solid risks in that regard overall. 

In short, Cody Franson is probably the best player in his position/age/salary/term range. That part is good, and if he has any form of resurgence this year, that $3.3M cap hit will look pretty good. The only issue, of course, is that it’s such a non-ideal range to be in to begin with, and likely leads to him not being around a year from now.