Cody Franson signs in SEL with Brynas IF

Another puzzle piece could be out of the mix for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cody Franson, the 25-year old defenceman with three years of NHL experience, has jettisoned and signed with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Elite League for the full 2012-13 season, the club announced Monday afternoon.

The SEL doesn’t necessarily want lockout-protected contracts, and the full-season contract is indicative of something or other. Franson went, of course, un-signed by the Maple Leafs this past summer as a restricted free agent coming off a 2-year contract worth $800K per season. Presumably, he was looking for a sizeable raise, that the Leafs didn’t necessarily want to give to him.

Cody Franson was one of just two Leafs defencemen with a positive Corsi rate last season, that is to say, one of two Leafs defencemen who were on the ice when the Leafs out-shot their opponents. Shot metrics are fairly important in being able to assess the future impact of a player on a hockey team, and Franson, despite his defensive inefficiencies, has the offensive game to compensate.

Even when adjusting for the amount of shifts Franson started in the offensive zone, Franson is middle of the pack in puck possession. He’s not a perfect defenceman, but he’s usable, and unfortunately saw fewer games and time on ice than the other 5th defencemen employed by the Leafs this past season.

This doesn’t signal that Franson is done as a Leaf. The new structure of the collective bargaining agreement will determine whether Franson’s rights remain with Toronto or not, but even if there’s a half season of NHL hockey to be played, it’s unlikely Franson would be able to come over without first clearing waivers.

A very mis-managed asset, I’m afraid. The Leafs originally acquired Franson for Brett Lebda and sucking the final two years out of Lombardi’s contract. At the end of the day, the Leafs failed to milk Franson for what he was worth, or even trade him away to cut their losses, and still owe Lombardi another $3.5M in salary cap dollars.

Update: According to Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post, the Leafs could potentially bring him back if they signed him to a deal once the lockout is over:

This is all contingent on what the SEL decides, according to Franson’s agent. Then the question turns to “do the Toronto Maple Leafs want him back as badly as this blog does?” James Mirtle has more on this.