For the month of August, Editor In Leaf will take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, previewing what could happen in the 2014-15 NHL season. Next up is six-foot-five offensive defenseman Cody Franson.
Years With Leafs: Three
Cody Franson’s value to the Toronto Maple Leafs is still very much up for debate. He’s been a solid offensive defenseman throughout his five-year career, matching his 29-point career high in only 45 games during the shortened 2012-13 campaign. Unfortunately, in 2013-14, he regressed.
Some of that can be attributed to a low 4.3 per cent shooting rate. His career average is 5.6, so we can expect him to have a little bit better luck moving forward. He also saw an increased role on the Leafs last season, playing over 20 minutes a night, which is a career high. The added workload may have caused him some problems. His PDO (on-ice shooting percentage + save percentage) dropped from 1040 in the lockout year to 996 last season (according to behindthenet.ca).
Despite these issues, Franson was still the second-best possession defenseman on the Leafs with an 8.3 Corsi relative to his teammates (also from behindthenet). From his WOWY (with or without you) numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com, he made almost every teammate he played with better in terms of Corsi-For percentage.
These numbers tell me Franson actually wasn’t the defensive liability many fans and pundits like to make him out to be. In fact, when we look at Corey Sznajder’s zone exit data from the first 46 games of last season (via Draglikepull of Pension Plan Puppets), Franson was one of the best d-men at exiting the zone safely along with Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.
There were many games last season where I ended up exasperated after a Franson turnover in the Leafs’ end of the ice. These plays are the ones that stick in our heads, but unfortunately, we often forget about the many more times in a game he makes a great stretch pass or skates the puck out of the zone himself. The numbers aren’t prone to biases our brains make all the time, and they’re in Franson’s favour.
Big Question: Is Franson a part of the Leafs’ long-term plans?
Darren Dreger of TSN reported Franson was going to be the player heading to Montreal in return for Josh Gorges:
Dreger “everyone is assuming that the player who would have gone to Mon for Gorges was a F, it wasn’t. It was Franson. I know that 100%”
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) July 2, 2014
Gorges vetoed the trade and ended up in Buffalo, while the Leafs signed Franson to his third consecutive one-year deal.
The relationship between Franson and the Leafs was already tenuous, to say the least, after he sat out a portion of training camp before 2012-13 in hopes of negotiating a better contract. The Leafs seem very adamant about not giving Franson a very big slice of the pie, and that might work against them when he hits unrestricted free agency next offseason.
At 27, Franson is a productive player who seems undervalued in Toronto and possibly by the entire league. This season will go a long way in determining his value as he prepares to hit the free-agent market.