Since his arrival from Nashville in 2011, Cody Franson hasn’t had a fair shake as a Leaf. The trade was a steal (thank you, Lebda), but the 6-foot-5 defender hasn’t been utilized to his full potential. The penchant for Franson to make ‘the big mistake’ has put him in the coach’s doghouse on numerous occasions and given Leafs management some commitment issues. After signing yet another one-year deal, Franson becomes a UFA after this season. With a glut of defensemen on the roster, his days as a Leaf are probably numbered.
Much was expected of the 27-year-old after a breakout campaign during the lockout-shortened season where he posted 29 points in 45 games, a 52 point pace. Whether he lived up to those expectations depends on who you ask, and really, what you expect out of a defenseman.
If what you look for is points, then on the surface Franson did fine grabbing 33 points, a career high, but it was a lot lower than the pace he was able to muster the year prior. The reason for his high point totals in 2013-14, though, was a high on-ice shooting percentage of 13.6, something he certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up. It predictably normalized to 8.2 percent last season. Regression and a lower individual points percentage led to a disappointing offensive season where Franson padded his point totals on a deadly Leafs powerplay.
As for defense, it won’t take you long to find a Leafs fan ready to complain about Franson’s regular defensive gaffes and general play in the d-zone. He’s been a lightning rod for criticism with regards to his defensive play, but that has more to do with the selective memory of most fans. Of course most people will remember the play that cost a goal, whether it was Franson’s fault or not, and they’ll look for similar errors to confirm their belief. Looking at those plays in isolation is missing the forest for the trees. What Franson brings to the table is a rarity on the Leafs blueline, someone who can drive play in the (relative) right direction, something he has consistently done during his time as a Leaf.
data via war-on-ice.com
The bars are individual games, and for Franson there’s far more good than bad. The big blue line across the middle is a ten game rolling average that’ll drown out some of the noise that comes from individual games. What is left is a defenseman who spends more time on the right side of the ice than his team does.
And with plenty of talk this week about the Leafs breakout woes, it’s probably worth mentioning that Franson was the second best defenseman on his team at getting the puck out, behind Morgan Rielly.
Will he even be a Leaf this season?
If the Leafs have any hope of upping their puck possession game, it would be wise to keep Franson. Given his situation and usage, Franson performs way above what’s expected of him. Combine that with his ability to elevate the game of virtually everyone he plays with (although there’s a chance that could be Gardiner driving the bus) and you have the makings of a player that the Leafs needed to have locked up last summer when they had the chance.
data via hockeyanalysis.com
What you should see from this is that almost every player’s corsi is higher while playing with Franson (dark blue) than while playing away from him (light blue). That and Franson alone usually outperforms the other player alone indicating he’s a big part of the spike.
Another thing from that graph: knowing that Phaneuf is going to start the year on the left, it seems like a no-brainer to have Franson there on the right side. It was only about 68 minutes of ice-time, and it’s possible that most of that time was spent in the offensive zone at the end of a powerplay, but a corsi percentage of 48 on this tire fire of a team is still impressive. If not Phaneuf, Franson could once again find himself with Jake Gardiner, last year’s most effective pairing.
What may have the biggest impact on Franson this year is whether or not he still mans the first powerplay unit. He’s been a monster on the powerplay for the Leafs and ranks third among defensemen who’ve played over 300 minutes in points/60 over the last three years on the powerplay (behind only Weber and Pietrangelo). The powerplay was one of the lone bright spots for the Leafs last year and Franson was a big part of it, but with the emergence of Rielly and Gardiner, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that spot go to one of them instead.
But all that won’t matter if the Leafs don’t know what they have in Franson. With constant trade rumours throughout the summer and yet another one-year-deal it seems like they don’t (although that may have changed with recent changes to the front office). With the additions of Robidas and Polak on the right side, Franson may find himself the odd man out. Considering what he’s capable of, misusing him, trading him or letting him walk this summer would be a much bigger mistake than anything Franson has ever done on the ice.
Fun fact: I’m in a 13 team keeper league (3F, 2D, 1G) and Cody Franson somehow was an owner’s second best choice on D. He’s not worth that.
On the other hand, Cody Franson is being drafted at 168th overall on average in Yahoo leagues. He’s not that bad either.
Considering the guys taken ahead of him (Brodin, Girardi, Oduya, Hjalmarsson) he’ll probably be a huge steal in your drafts, especially if he sticks on the powerplay. The problem becomes whether the Leafs bury him in the lineup or not, so pray to the Math Gods (DU!) before your draft, because if he gets his fair share of minutes he can get you 40 points.
Seriously, if you’re drafting Danny Dekeyser before Cody Franson please quit your league, thanks.
For more Fantasy hockey news checkout Dailyfaceoff.com
This video has two rare things and one thing that’ll never change.
- A successful Leafs zone exit (this is the Franson part, seriously just watch this zone exit it’s breathtaking)
- A Tim Gleason goal
- Ondrej Pavelec being bad
What? You don’t get excited by zone exits?
Fine, here’s a goal Franson scored last year that wasn’t a screened snapshot from the point. Mostly, it’s the Nazem Kadri show.
Previous Roster Previews