An unresolved question leading to the CBA expiry date on September 15 was the Leafs not signing Cody Franson. The 25-year-old rearguard is a restricted free agent coming off a uninspiring season after much expectation.
So let’s break down Franson.
Towering at six-foot-five with a modest 213-pound frame he has a long stride but lacks both first-step burst and top end speed. He appears unbalanced at times, such as in transition to backwards skating, limiting his mobility and agility. He stiffens up trying to maintain balance, in turn leaving big gaps he can’t close down fast enough.
The size factor is significant in the way that he uses his body, or lack thereof. He seemed soft straight from training camp, a factor behind being a healthy scratch to start the season.
For a player of his size, he could better utilize his wingspan and frame. His physical presence along the wall improved from camp and he now plants when guarding the crease. He performs best when relying on anticipation and ensuring proper positioning.
This video of a 2-on-2 situation is a small example. Franson backs up, with numbers coming back through the neutral zone. His defensive partner in position.
The play is to close down the space and force the play at the blueline, but he’s moving backwards and can’t react leading to a series of consecutive questionable decisions.
Pushed back, he gives up the line as the Daniel Paille drops a pass. He has Paille in his sights, but doesn’t connect and the Bruin skates past him barreling to the net.
Franson is frozen on the play, letting his man go and not able to get to the player with the drop pass, who directs the puck to the front of the goal where Paille gets a prime scoring chance. Franson is caught flat-footed while the shot is taken, he stops moving his feet and finally lets the skater beat him to the front of the net.
These items can be worked out, but at his age, he’s passing that phase of young developing player into NHL regular. The transition has been difficult in what really was his sophomore NHL season. An upgrade in skating and backward mobility would be to his benefit—cue Barb Underhill.
Besides these defensive issues aren’t his strength, he’s proven himself as a catalyst in the offensive zone.
Franson is a puck mover with a good stretch pass and imagination. His puck skills are decent but he’s not a natural rusher.
His point shot is heavy, varying speeds and switching up shot selection to disguise a potent shooting cache. A complimentary asset is a shoot first mentality, and increasingly improving on getting pucks to the net.
Strictly in the offensive zone, he’s a contributor, even when used like a pinball flipper at the top of the zone.
He doubled his seven power play points (2-5-7) at even strength (3-11-14). In addition, he had the highest relative Corsi (8) and Corsi On (2.8) among defensemen and the highest even strength shots for per games.
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Of course, for context, his usage under Wilson and Carlyle was fairly similar.
Playing less games, his penalties called between the Predators and Maple Leafs are similar enough.
So what does this all mean?
Cam made a good argument on whether Franson can step into Luke Schenn’s role.
The way Schenn was performing on the blueline last year, Franson would not be a downgrade, but of no significant upgrade. He lacks the physical and mean-natured spirit of Schenn, while bringing an upgrade offensively.
Franson fits best into a typical third pairing along with playing second power play minutes. He’s capable of stepping up and filling holes in the lineup on temporary assignments and there’s a spot on the blueline for the former 2005 3rd selection (79th overall). While he’s shown he can be a positive factor in the offensive zone, how much more could he really improve defensively? And at the age of 25, how much longer does he have to develop before he’s considered an NHL regular? And how long do the Leafs wait?
Long enough to decipher his true value is after a new CBA is reached.