Cody Franson: Building Block or Trade Bait?

It’s a sad state of affairs in Toronto, so this week was as good a time as any for me to sit down and reread a little something “The Hockey News” recently released, titled “Fan Issue”. The top hockey publication on the globe focused its attention to the people out there like you and I who pour our money, energy and emotion into supporting their favorite hockey clubs. They included a ranking system where each NHL teams’ following was judged in a series of categories, taking into account every angle applicable. When the results came in, just like in professional golf before Tiger lost his “Mojo”, this was a competition for second place. There was no struggle, no debate. The one thing this organization has that is Stanley Cup calibre is its core….core fans. Leaf Nation finished the rankings a distant 1st, while turning around and waving to the field as we crossed the finish line backwards.

I’m not entirely sure if we would lose points for the recent flood of jersey chuckers, but our lead could absorb the penalty if given. (You’ll find the chuckers lined up at Real Sports this morning to shell out a couple C-notes for a replacement. That is if they’ve made bail, of course). For most of us the Maple Leafs are pretty much family. Yes, a dysfunctional one. If anything the torture we’ve had to endure in Leaf Nation has only galvanized us further. Our strength, our unity and most importantly our sanity is being put to the test in recent days. Whether we pass or fail I don’t know. What I do know is we’ll be in class at 7pm eastern the next Saturday. It’s too late to turn back now. I’d be afraid to calculate the hours we’ve all put into watching, discussing, and often raving about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some people count sheep, we create new line combos and possible trade scenarios.

“How did I get this blue heart? I was kind of born with it. It’s hereditary for me.”
– Myself talking Leafs, The Hockey NewsFan Issue

The “Fan Issue” is the center point of this story for three particular reasons. One I’ve mentioned, is to remind us of who we are as a group. Leaf fans are passionate and tough. The second reason though is a little closer to home. As great an issue as it was, that’s not why it’s framed with prime location in my Leafs den (Leafs den is currently sectioned off… the gasoline is drying. I had a moment.). No, the reason I would save this from the fire is that I was quoted in the feature article on Leafs Nation.

Michael Traikos (@MichaelTraikos), who I’m sure the majority of readers know and follow, covers the Maple Leafs for the National Post. You can always count on his writing. While Mike isn’t on the beat for the Post, he is a contributor to The Hockey News and has been so for about a decade. In that time I’ve always held the highest respect for his writing, so when he wondered if I’d be willing to answer a few questions on my life as a multi-generational Leaf fan, like “why do you have a Pat Burns tattoo” or “Do you consider your mental issues regarding the Leafs a serious problem?”, of course I would. Since sneaking my name in their print, when visitors come over I act like Homer Simpson when he showed Frank Grimes his Grammy and picture on the moon. “Oh, you’ve never been in The Hockey News? Strange, I had assumed that everyone.…” Jokes aside, Traikos wrote a fantastic piece, as I knew he would. I’m both grateful and proud to be a small part of it.

“They take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Some say Toronto fans are suckers, but their unwavering loyalty is what separates them from the pack.”
– Michael Traikos, The Hockey News – Fan Issue

With the reaffirmation of the strength of Leaf Nation and my own personal reminder out of the way, I’ll get to why else article on Leafs Nation in “The Fan Issue” is applicable to today’s storyline in Toronto. Traikos used the words of two others to fill out his piece. Men with a greater resume than mine, I can assure you. Two men now on a collision course of sorts, who have both seen their name in The Hockey News multiple times before. The common ground I share with the guy whose picture is at the top of the page is the fact he was also born into this Maple Leaf lifestyle without choice. His family, like mine, knew the risks. But it’s who we are. The day his uncle laid that Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on him, his fate was sealed. That boy is all grown up, and his name is Cody Franson.

Franson is faced with more real-life drama than the typical member of Leaf Nation home deciding whether to tune in or not. The decisions he will make, or have made for him, will affect the on-ice product moving forward. Those choices are the ones awaiting him as he enters his first free agency. Do you say goodbye to the team who is all over your childhood pictures, or do you try and stay true to your blue blood? Then again, there is always a chance this call will be taken out of his hands. He may be forced to sit back and watch as he’s traded from the team he’s grown up living and dying with. This is the dilemma facing a guy who is doing a whole heck of a lot more than providing quotes.

“I was about three days old when I got my Wendel Clark jersey.”
– Cody Franson, The Hockey News – Fan Issue

Franson has always been a Leaf. Even while in Nashville he was secretly plotting ways to be traded to the Leafs and (What? No, it’s cool, man. It’s a Leafs site. We can pretty much make up anything.)… So yeah, Franson forced his eventual trade to Toronto by holding David Poile at gun point, screaming “Call Burkie, David! I know you American guys are all connected! Make it happen!!” Poile traded Franson for the first name Brian blurted out. Burke didn’t even have time to get his tie loosened. When he said Brett Lebda he was trying to lighten the mood. Poile was scared shitless. He knew full well that Franson had a good shot (rimshot).

If we can start to get serious here, considering we are talking about a player’s career in Toronto that hangs in the balance, Franson has had his share of ups and downs during his time in Blue and White. He was the reward given to Toronto for taking on the 3+ million dollar salary of Matthew Lombardi. That’s what really led Franson back to the team he cheered for in his youth. But for whatever reason, the 6’5” defenseman who has arguably been the Leafs most effective this season has never been on solid ground here.

Ten straight games. That’s what he sat his first season as a Maple Leaf. Coming over from Nashville, Franson was of the expectation he’d be in the running for a top-four position. Such was not the case and Franson and management have never fully clicked since. Then of course, there’s been the contracts.

Negotiations have never gone easy between Franson’s camp and Maple Leafs brass. Three consecutive one-year deals capped off with last year’s talks being so contentious that the player missed all of training camp, leaving nobody pleased. It certainly does not appear these meetings will be any different. As of January 1st, the two sides were free to discuss the terms of a new deal. According to several reports those discussions have not taken place, with plans to begin meeting shortly. It’s also been speculated that Franson is the most likely Leaf to be dealt, based on the salary he’ll command and his value on the trade market.

Now I mentioned a third person whose words found their way into Traikos’s THN story. Depending who you ask, this man could have a big hand in how the story ultimately ends (unless he’s been fired in the last 20 minutes….entirely possible). As it stands, Dave Nonis is the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Is he driving the bus and choosing the routes? We could speculate otherwise (license revoked), but as long as his name is on the door to the GM’s office at MLSE, he’ll have a hand in Cody’s fate. Nonis was doing his radio rounds prior to Christmas and during one of his stops on Leafs Lunch, Nonis made the following statement, “We all know Cody bleeds blue.”

I found this quote particularly interesting. It makes one wonder if we’ll witness another game of chicken between the two groups. If you’re Franson, do you accept an offer in Toronto under what you’d get on the open market (ol’ hometown discount) knowing that your loyalty to the Maple Leafs is possibly being played on? Franson hits UFA status this summer and he’s been squeezed over and over in the past, due mainly to a lack of leverage. Last year Franson’s camp gave up their arbitration rights for various reasons. This time around, tides have turned in their favor and Franson has plenty of factors to consider. Let’s not forget that Franson was strongly rumored to be part of a deal that would have brought Josh Gorges to Toronto. How does that all sit with the big right-shot defenseman who is on pace for a career high 50+ points? A number that is going to get Cody some “dollar dollar bills, yo”.

That’s right Dave, if you intend on signing #4, you’d best pucker up. Cody Franson is getting paid, from somebody. So what’s it going to be, Leaf fans? Prepare yourself, if Franson stays it’s for money and term. North of 5 in both cases. On the open market Franson could command close to 6 million dollars a year. I know, I know…but look around, that’s the rate for what Franson brings to the table. There are examples all over (see Niskannen, Matt) .Mark Stall signing at 5.7 per could help the Leafs in that I don’t think Franson is considered to be in the same group as Staal. And just because the market is set doesn’t mean you have to pay it. Management has certainly been guilty of that in the recent past. There is the option of trade and those winds are swirling mightily. What about a trade followed by re-sign? Has that been seriously considered, something previous management shied away from?

Which brings us to the million (or in this case millions) dollar question. What is Cody Franson worth to you? Is he worth 5.5 X 6 years? Is he worth a late 1st rounder or 2nd and a prospect? Will he be the first player we see moved as this roster gets reworked, or will Franson be a part of the future here in Toronto? The Leafs have put a new focus on advanced stats, where the defenseman’s numbers are very favorable. Will that have hand in the decision making? We saw the animation with the shattered stick the other night. Can Cody be a leader on this team? He’s worn the “A” recently. What does Shanahan think of him?

This folks is no tap-in. Difficult and important meetings are facing Toronto and Franson. There are interesting times ahead for Leaf Nation, as there will most certainly be roster changes between now and next October when the puck drops on the 2015/16 season. As for Cody Franson role on that team….

“You Just Gotta Let Me Know….Should He Stay or Should He Go?”

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