Cody Franson’s struggles now over?

Wednesday afternoon, I was out and a TV at the place I was at had Sportsnet Connected on with the closed captioning on. “Is it any coincidence the Leafs win streak coincided with the Leafs acquisition of Tim Gleason?” said the closed captioning. It was presumably attributed to Damien Cox, but I’m going to assume that the closed captioner went rogue, since there’s no chance a sentient being said that.

The Leafs are, in fact, 6-3 with Gleason in the lineup, with Gleason jumping into the lineup right in the middle of a Maple Leafs losing streak. I’m going to re-iterate what I’ve said many times before: lineups change due to injuries and trades so often throughout the year and streaks always happen, so you’re going to run into players with disproportionate records when they’re in the lineup as opposed to out. No, David Bolland’s injury is not why the Leafs are 2nd worst in the East since November 2. No, Tim Gleason is not why the Leafs are on a 6-game win streak. Yes, it is absolutely a coincidence the Leafs are 16-16-4 with David Clarkson in the lineup, and 11-4-1 when he’s not.

One thing Tim Gleason has done, however, is stabilized Cody Franson a little. Well, maybe.

Gleason-Franson were killed in possession against the Colorado Avalanche, but otherwise they’d been a pretty good pairing. Franson’s a bit of a weird nut this season in general. Per Extra Skater, he was a +3.5% Relative Corsi in 2011-2012, +2.2% in 2013 and is just +0.5% this season. That is to say, the Leafs are still better off in terms of shots for and against when he’s on the ice, but not as much as they were a year ago and in 2011-2012. Something has been up with him this year and while his offensive game has been going, he’s struggled on defence, a lot slower than usual.

Has Gleason stabilized him? Well, part of the reason for Franson’s bad start, as far as I can tell, was that he was paired with Morgan Rielly during Rielly’s first 16 NHL games. The following chart is an idea based on a post from mc79hockey visualizing Taylor Hall’s individual games for his career. Basically, what I’ve done is taken all of Franson’s games this season and taken the CF Rel% (Leafs Corsi % when he’s on the ice minus Leafs Corsi % when he’s off the ice) and sorted it in ascending order. I’ve coloured the bars by Franson’s primary defensive partner during the game:

Gleason is coloured in that light blue (Google calls is cyan, but I’m not Benjamin Moore) and you can see a mix on either side of even for Franson. The major takeaway for me is that games with Rielly are stacked to the left (bad) side of the graph and games with Jake Gardiner are stacked towards the right (good) side. Those are really the three players he’s spent the most time with this season.

Taking away the games he’s played with Morgan Rielly, Franson’s Relative Corsi For% has been +2.7% when away from Rielly and -3.7% with him. Travis Yost made the point at NHLNumbers that young players have a real tough time breaking into the league if you look at possession data. Most rookies do quite poorly until they’ve got their NHL bearings and Rielly is no different. With Rielly, you see flashes, and he’s definitely been better since being taken off of Franson’s pairing, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be attributed to Franson.

Truth is, I think some of Franson’s poor start can be directly attributed to playing with a pretty green player. Today’s update at Hockey Analysis shows that Franson’s Corsi For % with Rielly is 40.7%, and without it’s 44.0%. The second number, in context of how brutal the Leafs are at possession, is reasonable.

Still, him and Gleason have had some good games together and maybe there is something to this whole change of scenery thing. At the very least, the addition of Gleason means Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser, two players that were definitely struggling, have been pushed down the depth chart and won’t get into as many games from here on out.

    • MaxPower417

      Last year Randy blasted Franson repeatedly for not taking the body enough.

      Last year he was arguably our most reliable Dman.

      This year, Franson ALWAYS goes for the hit, which often leads to him being caught out of position.

      This year he has been a tire fire defensively and objectively worse than the much maligned Paul Ranger.

      Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not.

  • STAN

    My only issue is the “… it is absolutely a coincidence the Leafs are 16-16-4 with David Clarkson in the lineup, and 11-4-1 when he’s not.”

    I’m not sure how you come to that conclusion, Cam. But we shall see what happens when he gets back.

  • MaxPower417

    Gardiner has been killing it in terms of possession all year even with tough zone starts and competition (although he has faced easier minutes recently it seems). His WOWY’s are very impressive.

  • MaxPower417

    It shouldn’t be forgotten either that Franson wasn’t skating with the team during training camp. He didn’t get a deal done until pretty much the Eve of the season. While I do agree his defensive partners can be contributing to his initial downplay, you cannot overlook the fact that he got off to a slow start. Clarkson anyone!?