They could very easily be confused for feuding lovers: the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t commit long-term or financially to Cody Franson while Franson has taken the team to salary arbitration, but it’s hard to imagine the two sides ever parting ways.
There’s some talk, of course, that the Leafs intend to trade Franson after adding two other right-handed shots to the blue line this off-season, i.e. Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak. However, I’m not convinced the team can afford to replace his production on the backend. At the very least, they can’t expect Robidas or Polak to replace it.
Whereas captain Dion Phaneuf‘s offensive numbers have steadily declined or plateaued over the years depending on your perspective, Franson’s numbers have constantly improved since joining the Leafs. Franson set a new career-high in points this season, recording 33 points (5 goals, 28 assists) in 79 games, but it’s really his numbers from the shortened 2012-2013 season that draw attention: he recorded 29 points (4 goals, 25 assists) in 45 games. On both occasions, he led the Leafs’ defence in overall points.
Franson has emerged as a power play specialist, too, netting 13 power play points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 2012-2013 and 18 power play points (1 goal, 17 assists) in 2013-2014.
Ultimately, it might be the team’s plan for young defencemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly to replace Franson’s production on the blue line. Both players have the potential to do this and they’re more skilled than Franson, but there’s another problem.
Since joining Toronto, Franson’s also increased his physical presence. He finished second in the league for hits last season, playing the type of tough defensive hockey game that head coach Randy Carlyle (rightly or wrongly) loves. In many respects, Franson remains a defensive liability – he’s not the best skater and he can be caught out of position at times – but we know what it means for a guy to gain Carlyle’s favour.
In the end, Franson will almost certainly earn a raise over the $2 million he got last year. I can’t see the Leafs refusing to pay him, but will they finally commit long-term to him?
It really comes down to whether they trust their other internal options, but at this relatively low level of commitment, they’re unlikely to find anyone better through free agency next year. I say lock him up.
(Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Franson took the Leafs to arbitration last season. This isn’t the case. The two sides reached a late deal after Franson declined to file for arbitration. Thank you to those readers who identified this inaccuracy.)