Sunday, September 01, 2013

Why I Think the Leafs Should Probably Trade Cody Franson

The Situation: Training camp is a little over a week away for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson are both still Restricted Free Agents in need of new contracts.  The Leafs have roughly $4,900,000 in cap space, or $2,450,000 to spend per player.  The cheapest way possible to sign both of these players would be to sign them to bridge contracts (usually two-year deals close to half of what older players with similar production earn).  We've all done our estimates and most seem to think bridge contracts for both Kadri and Franson would fall in the $2.5 to $3 million range per year.  That already puts them over the cap.  The concerning thing is that even if you got them for cheaper somehow, you're still leaving yourself with virtually no cap space.  While some people don't have an issue with that, I really think you need at least around $1,500,000 in cap space going into the season to carry and/or call-up spare players, which can be especially important when you have someone get injured, but not injured enough to go on the injured reserve (which temporarily wipes a player's cap hit off the books).  The New Jersey Devils had this issue a couple years ago when they were pressed up against the cap and dressed less than 18 skaters in a game because they couldn't afford to call anyone up.

My Preferred Solution: Trade Cody Franson.  You need Nazem Kadri due to the lack of skilled center depth on the team.  Franson on the other hand is good, but not irreplaceable.  Even if he were on the team next season I'd expect him to be fourth in minutes amongst defensemen on the team behind Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, and Carl Gunnarsson.  Likewise, the Leafs already have defensemen that can produce offensively in Phaneuf and Gardiner, not to mention serviceable powerplay options like Gunnarsson, Paul Ranger, John-Michael Liles, T.J. Brennan, and Morgan Rielly.  Ideally you could trade Liles instead, but there probably won't be any suitors for him and his excessive contract (three more years at $3,875,000).  I just think that as good as Franson was last season, especially in the playoffs, this is a guy who even at his regular season best has only averaged about twenty minutes a game (at the tail end of last season).  You have Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, and Gardiner to eat the important minutes next year.  I know people don't like Liles but he can play on the right side and used to be a legitimate top four defenseman.  I also know that people don't like Korbinian Holzer but he still averaged 18 minutes per game last season on the top pair.  Put him on the second pair with someone who can drive play like Jake Gardiner and he could be serviceable.  If not Holzer, then rookie Petter Granberg, who played on Sweden's top pair in the World Championships last spring en route to a gold medal, can fill a very similar role.  The Leafs traded away their 2nd round pick to get Dave Bolland this year, and have to give up another one in the next two seasons in the Jonathan Bernier trade.  You can help make up for that a little bit by trading Cody Franson for a 2nd round pick and maybe even a bit more.  While you'd ideally like to keep Cody Franson over about half of the options on the Leafs defense this season, the salary cap just doesn't allow it.  Cody Franson is the most expendable player on the Leafs that has trade value that can also alleviate the Leafs cap issues (to some extent).  That's why I think the Leafs should probably trade Cody Franson.

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