During his introductory press conference, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told reporters that Toronto will once again become a prime destination for free agent talent. Well, that didn’t take very long, did it?
Appearing on TSN 1050 yesterday evening, Nashville Predators defenceman Cody Franson told Bill Hayes and Dave McCarthy that he’d be very much interested in returning to Toronto.
“100%. I’ve always said that I loved it in Toronto – it’s been reported that I grew up a Toronto fan a number of times and it’s the truth. I enjoyed playing in that city and definitely I’m hopeful that Toronto’s in the mix come July 1st. My phone will definitely be on and hoping they’re one of the teams that calls.”
That’s a little surprising to hear, considering the Leafs traded Franson, along with Mike Santorelli, to the Predators just a few short months ago. In return, Toronto received a first round pick (24th overall) in the upcoming draft, as well as prospect Brendan Leipsic and veteran centre Olli Jokinen (who was later flipped for a late round draft selection).
Franson spent four seasons in Toronto and was a mainstay in the top four. A rare mix of size and offensive skill, and with a valuable right-handed shot to boot, Franson put up 115 points in 236 games with the Leafs.
Despite his strong showings, Toronto seemed hesitant to commit. Franson was signed to one-year deal after one-year deal at a relatively low dollar figure. You’d think after so many “show me” contracts, the Leafs would have signed him to a multi-year deal, but instead used Franson’s RFA status against him to keep his cap hit down. Ultimately, it worked out well – they were able to flip his attractive $3.3M contract at the deadline just before Franson became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Apparently, somehow, he still wants to come back.
The question is not whether Toronto should be interested in Cody Franson – they should be. The question is how much is he really worth? It seems like free agent defenceman of Franson’s calibre are always said to be looking for $5M per year on at least a four year contract – that’s always where the conversation goes first, but there are a couple of things working against Franson that could potentially keep his cost down.
There’s actually a relatively large group of top four defenceman that will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, and while Franson is certainly one of the most attractive options – one of the most skilled and only 27-years old – the supply and demand could work against him. Mike Green, Jeff Petry, Christian Ehrhoff, Zybnek Michalek, Francois Beauchemin, and Andrej Sekera, among others, are all looking for new contracts.
Beyond that, Franson played pretty well in Nashville, but the numbers certainly didn’t come easy. Franson scored only four points in 23 games for the Predators, and his average ice time of 15:25 minutes per game essentially made him their sixth defenceman. It shouldn’t move the needle too much, but that performance might lead some teams to value him at a lower dollar amount.
If Toronto can find a way to sign Franson for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4M a year for four years, I’d say there’s no reason to not jump all over that. As that number creeps up closer to $5M and five years and beyond, my interest in bringing him back drops significantly. It’s not that I don’t think Franson deserves the long-term commitment and the money, but that’s not the kind of deal a rebuilding team should be signing. At that point, I start considering my other options, like a cheaper free agent or the internal promotion of one of my youngsters.