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Feb 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) goes to pass the puck against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs Smart to Bring Back Cody Franson

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Just before the Toronto Maple Leafs and Cody Franson were scheduled to head to arbitration, the two sides came together to sign a one-year, $3.3 million deal, per Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post.

After he had been used as trade bait in a potential deal with the Montreal Canadiens, Franson’s future with the club was far from predictable.

It’s the defenseman’s third one-year contract  in as many years with the Buds, and it was one Toronto needed to get done.

With the free agent pool for defensemen thinning out, the Leafs weren’t going to find much of an upgrade on Franson there. Furthermore, Franson does bring value to the Leafs, even if his defensive play does lag behind from time to time.

His points-per-game may have dipped in 2013-14 from the shortened season prior, but he can still be counted on to put up 35-to-40 points from the blue line.

He’s also a crucial part of the Leafs’ powerplay. In the shortened 2013 season, Franson was on the ice for over 55 percent of Toronto’s powerplay time. In 2013-14, that increased to 56 percent. His big shot may not yield an abundance of goals for the team, but it does keep the opposition honest and open lanes for his teammates, also important in ensuring powerplay success.

Secondly, there’s the fact that his defensive game actually improved in terms of giveaways and takeaways in 2013-14, despite many believing he took a step back. Compared to the lockout-shortened season in which the Leafs made the playoffs, Franson averaged more takeaways per 60 minutes and less giveaways per 60. He closed the differential from -1.3 to -0.7.

Another encouraging aspect to Franson’s game is his ability to move the puck out of his own zone. That skill is evidenced by the fact that his Corsi For Percentage has been higher than his team’s when he’s not on the ice in every year of his career. Sure, a 44.9  percent mark in 2013-14 is nothing to write home about,  but it’s still 2.6 percent higher than the Leafs’ mark without him on the ice (the team’s Fenwick and shot differential is also better with Franson on the ice).

His poor Corsi numbers in Toronto can be attributed to the team’s system moreso than his play. In Nashville, he posted Corsi For percentages of 51 and 51.2 percent (once again, those numbers were higher than his team’s without him on the ice) across two seasons.

Considering this has been a weakness for Toronto for a number of years, losing Franson—and one of the only Leafs’ defensemen who can actually clear his own zone without icing the puck or dumping it out and turning over possession—is something the team could not afford. It is acutally conceivable that the team’s possession numbers could worsen without him.

Many believe the Leafs would be fine—perhaps even better off—without the slow second-pairing defenseman, but at $3.3 million for just one year, Franson brings plenty of value for the Leafs on the backend. Especially when you consider that comparable contracts include the likes of Clayton Stoner, Luke Schenn and Jared Cowen (though there are some older contracts that would now seem like a discount as well). Considering what’s left out there to replace him, bringing Franson back was a necessity for the Leafs.

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