Photo Credit: Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports
This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!
When the Nashville Predators acquired Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli in February, everybody thought it was a match made in heaven. After all, the team was getting two quality players that they were familiar with, without giving up any present assets. Theoretically, it was the type of move that should’ve taken a good team to greatness, but instead, it was a bust.
David Poile was quick to admit that the team was forcing a square peg into a round hole. After all, the Predators are very adament about following shot handedness with their defencemen, and they already had three quality righties. As such, Franson didn’t recieve the necessary playing time, didn’t fit in, and will now hit free agency. But what will he command?
Since joining the league in 2009/2010, Franson has quietly been one of the league’s most efficient offensive defencemen. Of the 108 defencemen to play at least 5000 even strength minutes since his NHL debut, Franson is one of just eleven to average over a point every sixty minutes. His peers are a combintion of the league’s elite point-getters (Karlson, Keith, Letang) and guys who have straight up played forward in stretches (Byfuglien, Burns).
It is worth nothing, however, that his production has been a mixed bag in the past couple of seasons. Franson was actually second in the above per 60 statistic from 2009 to 2013, but struggled as the Leafs began to deploy him in tougher situations.
|Season||PTS/60||CF%||CF% Rel||ZSO%||ZSO% Rel|
It’s pretty simple logic, really; it’s easier to get points, or at least attempt to do so, when you’re 30 feet from the net rather than 180 feet from it. As well, teams have gradually caught on to Franson’s slower-than-average foot speed over the years and have tried to capitalize on that by playing quicker forwards against him.
Despite his even strength “struggles”, Franson has continued to excel on the powerplay. Even in the past two years, he’s been the league’s ninth most productive defenceman with a man advantage, thanks to his excellent puck-moving abilities.
Franson is still likely to be a key offensive contributor on most hockey teams, if given the opportunity. With that said, the situation has to be correct to get the most use out of him. Ideally, you’ll be deploying him in the offensive zone more often than not, and giving him a chunk of powerplay minutes.
It’s also in his next team’s best interest to play him with a mobile partner. While he’s capable of driving play with just about anybody and makes most of his partners better, there was a noticible uptick in control of the game when he was sent out with guys like Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles in Toronto, as opposed to the likes of Dion Phaneuf, who, while good, aren’t quick enough to support Franson if he makes a mistake or has to attempt to rush back.
A good situation should turn Franson into a 45, if not 50 point scorer over a full season. Seeing as he’s only 27 years old and doesn’t rely on athletics to make his game great, he should have a lot of gas left in the tank. As long as he stays healthy, look for him to be a solid contributor to a team with some support for years to come.
After years of short-term deals with the Maple Leafs, it’s pretty obvious that Franson will be looking to commit to a mid to long term deal with whoever decides to sign him. While it’s doubtful that a team will sign him to a UFA-max seven year deal, a three to four year term is definitely not out of the question. It would bring him to his early thirties, and give him another opportunity to get his big payday if he succeeds.
The dollar figure becomes the big question. Higher profile offensive defencemen are typically locks to make well over $5 million per season, but haven’t really gone into their contract years as slow as Franson has. Given the fact he wasn’t particularly hyped up at his offensive peak, I could only see him earning that much if a bidding war were to ensue. Realistically, something in the $4.5-4.75 million range from a team with some cap flexibility wouldn’t be a huge shocker if he ends up signing mid-term, though he could also pull a, well, Cody Franson, and sign a 1 or 2 year deal at around $4 million if he’s super confident that he’ll rebound.