Where Does Cody Franson Fit?

The trade that brought Cody Franson to Toronto seemed to be almost universally popular among Leafs fans. The team rid itself of two players they didn’t want or need, and in exchange added a very capable young defenseman – all at the price of accepting an injured player who, if healthy, will also help the team.

Where would Franson slot in on the Leafs’ depth chart if the season started today?

Let’s start by looking at how the Leafs’ used last season’s defenders in various situations. Players are ranked by total minutes played in each category.

Rank Even Strength Power Play Penalty Kill
1 Luke Schenn Dion Phaneuf Luke Schenn
2 Dion Phaneuf Carl Gunnarsson Carl Gunnarson
3 Carl Gunnarsson Brett Lebda Dion Phaneuf
4 Mike Komisarek Luke Schenn Mike Komisarek
5 Keith Aulie Matt Lashoff Keith Aulie
6 Brett Lebda
7 Matt Lashoff

(Keep in mind that this chart excludes Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle, both of whom played significant roles prior to being traded)

Then let’s look at where Cody Franson ranked in each category for the Predators, and who was slotted ahead and behind him.

Even Strength Power Play Penalty Kill
4. Shane O’Brien 2. Ryan Suter  
5. Cody Franson 3. Cody Franson No significant role
6. Francis Bouillon 4. Francis Bouillon  

Just looking at the depth chart in this way, it feels like Franson (based on last season’s use) would slot into the number five slot at even-strength, right behind Mike Komisarek, and the number two role on the power play, displacing Carl Gunnarson.

The latter role seems highly likely – until we remember that the Leafs’ also added John-Michael Liles. Liles is a magician on the power play, an established option – Franson is merely a young player who looked good in a limited showing in the role with Nashville. It seems probable that the power play depth chart on the back end will start with Phaneuf, followed by Liles, with Franson taking a job on the second unit.

At even-strength, the picture is a little more clouded. Phaneuf and Schenn will, without question, get top-four minutes again, with the former the likeliest candidate to lead the team in minutes played. Newcomer Liles was the Avalanche’s most used even-strength defenseman in 2010-11, and did a good job – but a year prior he was a repeated healthy scratch. Even so, he’s probably going to get top-four minutes.

That leaves the last job a competition between Franson and three incumbents: Komisarek, Gunnarson and Aulie, all of whom spent large chunks of last season on the third pairing. At this juncture, Gunnarson is certainly the favourite for the last available top-four role (I actually think he’s going to be slotted above Liles on the depth chart), given what he managed to do last season for the Leafs, playing 21+ minutes per game from mid-February on.

In my books, Franson is fifth on the depth chart, the same role he played with such success in Nashville. Based on late-season ice-time, we would expect to see Keith Aulie as his partner, but I think there’s at least a chance that the much-maligned Komisarek pushes ahead of Aulie, particularly if the latter struggles a sophomore.