Pat is a regular writer at FlamesNation.ca and can be heard daily at Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Caglary.
When the Maple Leafs acquired Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators, it accomplished two things for the blue and white: first, it got rid of Brett Lebda and second it brought in a young defenceman with a good ceiling in Franson. After sitting down with Cody at a golf tournament here in Calgary, I can also tell you he’s very motivated heading into his first season with Toronto.
The deal that sent Franson to Toronto was one he didn’t see coming, and one that took a while to set in. "I was in New York for a wedding and were having breakfast the next morning and my phone rang and it was Mr. Poile saying this wasn’t a good phone call," Franson told me. "He’s like we traded you. I didn’t know what to say."
Predators GM Poile told him it was all part of the business and Toronto offered up something they couldn’t refuse and wished him luck with the Leafs, and that was that for a guy who had never been traded before. "I didn’t even get a chance to kinda ask what the trade was," Franson said. "We got off the phone and I just kinda stood there flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to do or what to say and my girlfriend’s looking at me like ‘what just happened?’"
The Predators are the only pro franchise Franson has ever known, spending time with the Milwaukee Admirals before advancing to the big roster for the last two seasons. "One phone call just changed my whole life," he reflected. "I was getting prepared to go back to Nashville and it was I’d ever known, I’d never been traded before. It was a completely new feeling for me and I didn’t know exactly how to deal with it first, but after about an hour and a half it kinda set in and, you know, I’m going to Toronto. My whole family is a bunch of Leafs fans, so once that started to set in and we started realizing how much of an opportunity it’s going to be for me, it’s nice to get a fresh start every once in a while."
There’s a lot to like about Franson as a hockey player, and there’s still a long way for him to go, as he turns 24 in August. Averaging over 15 minutes a game last year, he put up 29 points and saw some decent powerplay time, but certainly saw some more sheltered time at even strength. While putting up decent possession numbers (2.45 Corsi), he did see the highest offensive zone start ratio among regular defencemen on the team at 50.3%. Rarely playing in a top four role against serious opposition, Franson also saw very little penalty killing time.
"When you play in a city for a while and you play under the same coaches, they start to label you," Franson revealed. "Depending on how you play, you might not be a PK guy, they might not trust you in certain situations or they just don’t see you as that type of player and it’s nice to get out of that for a while. I kind of get a fresh start with Toronto and I know I can do those jobs, I can kill penalties and play those top four minutes and I personally believe I can do that kinda stuff."
Seldom do you get this type of honesty from an NHL player, so it was an absolute treat to hear Franson excitedly talk about the opportunity that lies in front of him with the Leafs. "It was beginning to get a little tiresome in trying to prove that to them (Nashville)," Franson continued. "It’s nice going to Toronto with new coaches and a new situation and starting from scratch."
Getting this new opportunity in Toronto, it really does sound like Franson is eager to prove the Leafs right, and maybe proving the Predators wrong. "I talked to my agent after it happened," Franson said. "I asked ‘how do I look at this? Was it because I played bad that Nashville wanted to trade me?’ He goes ‘oh God no, anytime you get traded it’s because the other team wants you.’ I kinda took that in and I got off the phone with him and sat there on the deck with my girlfriend, I called my parents; it was a very differerent but fun experience for me."
Now Franson has his chance to make an impact in the biggest market in hockey, and with a young, emerging blueline, he’ll likely get plenty of opportunity for new opportunities with the Leafs. Franson clearly feels he was typecast in Nashville, and he’s now got a chance to show the viewing public just how well rounded he can be.