It’s official: Cody Franson will be returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs next year.
Franson and the Leafs avoided arbitration today by reaching agreement on a one-year deal that’ll pay the young defenceman $3.3 million. This is the third straight one-year deal the Leafs have given Franson, taking full advantage of his status as a restricted free agent. However, that’ll change in 2015-2016 when Franson finally hits the market as a free agent.
In terms of money, the agreement represents a compromise from both sides. Franson was originally seeking $4.2 million from the team while the Leafs we’re hoping to keep his services at the relatively cheap cost of $2 million. From what’s known about the negotiations, it’s not clear if the two sides ever discussed the possibility of a multi-year deal.
Despite leading the defence in points for the past two seasons, Franson remains a somewhat controversial figure on the team’s blue line. Once criticized for playing soft hockey, he led the league in hits among all defencemen last season. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to silence many of the critics.
If he’s no longer soft, Franson is still slow and always seems caught in his own end according to the armchair choir.
Whatever are Franson’s individual faults in these two areas, I take a different view. The team as a whole isn’t very good defensively and this is hardly his fault. Franson, after all, ranked second in +/- for the Leafs during the shortened 2012-2013 season and while the usefulness of this stat can be debated, it’s hard to discount his offensive contributions, especially on the power play.
To put it differently, he’s not someone the Leafs can easily replace. This is why the team’s lack of long-term commitment strikes me as odd.
Another strong offensive year from Franson could see him eclipse the Leafs’ available salary cap space moving forward. It’d be a real shame to lose him based solely on the team’s lack of commitment right now.