Aside from the unsigned Nazim Kadri, the Leafs most notable remaining restricted free agent is defenseman Cody Franson.
After coming to the Leafs from Nashville in 2011 along with F Matthew Lombardi in exchange for F Robert Slaney and D Brett Lebda (AKA this generation’s Aki Berg), Franson has had his share of ups and downs while dawning the blue and white. In his first two seasons with the Leafs, Franson struggled to find himself in the good graces of the Leafs coaching staff and has spent time either on the bench or in the press box under Ron Wilson and his successor Randy Carlyle.
It wasn’t until halfway through last year’s lockout shortened season that Franson started to see his stock in the Leafs ranks improve, playing 20 plus minutes in 18 of the team’s final 24 games. This could have been recognition of strong play, through his first season and a half Franson ranked number one amongst Leaf defensemen in Corsi On (a calculation of how many more or less shots per 60 minutes the opposing team got with the player on the ice) and in the top two in points per 60 minutes amongst the Leafs blueliners.
However, in the system obsessed coaching style of Randy Carlyle, Franson supporters will hope that the Leafs coach finally found a place in his game plan to properly utilize the offensively gifted 6’5, 213 pound Franson. The trend of increased responsibility continued into the playoffs for Franson, as he averaged over 22 minutes per game and registered 6 points in 7 games. Combined with added power play time and valuable minutes against the Bruins top six, Franson was arguably the Leafs best defenseman in the postseaon.
In the past few weeks speculation has risen that the Leafs may be looking to trade Franson, reportedly for a prospect and a draft pick, due to the tight constraints the Leafs are under in relation to the league’s salary cap ($4.895 million remaining to sign both Franson and Kadri).
In an offseason where the Leafs have spent $2.9 million on a goaltender with 62 NHL games played, $5.25 million on a winger who has eclipsed 40 points in an NHL season just once, and $4.2 million on a number one centre WHO SCORED LESS POINTS THAN FRANSON LAST SEASON, it would seem that the Buds should be exhausting all options in order to sign the 25 year old.
Whether through a buy-out of John-Michael Liles or a cap friendly trade, creating cap space should be a top priority for the Leafs in the coming weeks. For now, Leafs Nation must nervously spend the remaining weeks of the offseason awaiting any news regarding the promising young defenseman.
But hey! At least Bozak is back to play video games with Kessel right? So you know, thank god for small miracles…