Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Bring Cody Franson Back?


Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Bring Cody Franson Back?

Everyone’s thinking it, but few people want to say it: should the Toronto Maple Leafs bring Cody Franson back?

Dec 23, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) waits for play to resume against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Maple Leafs shut out the Stars 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so dramatic: it depends.

It depends on how the Leafs intend to approach their latest rebuild effort, and it depends on what the Leafs plan to do with captain Dion Phaneuf.

If the Leafs intend to rely more heavily on young defencemen like Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Stuart Percy next season, it makes someone like Franson expendable and a pure luxury item.

Gardiner and Rielly, if they’re the true anchors of the Leafs’ power play moving forward, will need time and space to develop their talents. The return of Franson, who one could argue is really just a one-trick pony on the power play, would eat into this development process. On the other hand, should Gardiner or Rielly find themselves moved to another team, this’d create an immediate space for Franson to fill.

Sep 26, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Stuart Percy (50) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Leafs beat the Sabres 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Similarly, we saw at the start of last season that Percy is capable of logging some big minutes while putting up decent offensive numbers. To develop him as a true two-way defenceman, he’ll need more time and space, too – a situation that the return of Franson would greatly complicate. Assuming Gardiner and Rielly play together, this leaves Percy to develop alongside Phaneuf on the top “defensive” line, or he could just as easily find himself skating on the third defensive line between Stephane Robidas or Roman Polak. The point is that he’ll need to see regular time on the ice with a veteran player beside him.

Depending on how this situation unfolds, it’d leave Franson left to play with Phaneuf on the top defensive line – do you really want to see this happen outside of the power play (if even there)? – or it’d see him land somewhere towards the end of the pecking order on the blue line – would you want to pay a sizable amount of money for someone who ultimately fulfills a minor role on the team?

All of this changes, of course, if Phaneuf is removed from the equation. With the departure of Phaneuf, there’d be an instant need to fill his void with a veteran defenceman capable of steady production on the power play and someone who can deliver the occasional big hit. Franson fits this role perfectly and this is where he can best help the Leafs moving forward: a serviceable and affordable leader who can shepherd the Leafs defensive corps through the rebuild process.

There’ll be other teams competing for Franson’s services. The Calgary Flames, for instance, are apparently interested in him and his addition would give them a truly impressive blue line, but the Leafs seem to have the upper hand right now.

Mar 22, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) juggles a puck during the pre game warm up against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

One could argue that past contract negotiations have poisoned the relationship between the Leafs and Franson, but it’s also in Toronto that Franson has seen his best years. For whatever reason, things seem to work out for him in Toronto whereas two stints with the Nashville Predators have seen him struggle for relevance.

To reclaim his services, Franson might demand a long-term deal from the Leafs. This is no different from his previous demands from the team, but circumstances might finally favour his position. I’d love to see Franson return, and he deserves the reward for all the work he’s put into this franchise over the past four seasons.

Will the Leafs re-sign him? It depends, but there’s no doubting his past importance to this team.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson