He may have just had his nine-game point streak snapped, but Cody Franson’s play is going to lead to a very difficult decision for Toronto. A free agent this summer, the Maple Leafs will need to decide whether he will stay or go.
By Craig Hagerman
Before being held pointless in the Toronto Maple Leafs last two contests, defenseman Cody Franson had been riding a nine-game point streak (two goals and nine assists), the longest of his career and, at the time, the longest in the NHL. The numbers are great news for the player and team right now, but could very well result in Franson, an impending unrestricted free agent, leaving town if he and the Leafs can’t get a new deal done.
Franson, a Sicamous, B.C. native, has 14 points through 20 games and is on pace to collect 56 points, which would be by far his most productive season. He’s a plus-7 on the season, which is a huge improvement from his team-worst minus-20 in 2013-14. During the Leafs embarrassing 9-2 pounding at the hand of the Nashville Predators last week, Franson was actually even.
Last summer it became public that the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens had a deal in place to exchange Franson for defender Josh Gorges. The only thing that prevented the deal was Gorges refusing to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Buds. He eventually accepted a trade to the Sabres.
Gorges, who has just one assist in 17 games this season, is currently in the third season of a six-year deal paying him $3.9 million per. Meanwhile, Franson is on a one-year pact making $3.3 million. If Franson’s solid play continues, he’ll be in line for a significant raise. The 27-year-old has seen his salary rise during each of his last three single-year contracts, from $800,000 to $1.2 million to $2 million to his current contract. Any large salary demand would be problematic for the cap-crunched Maple Leafs, who already have nearly $53 million committed to 13 players for next season. (And reports surfaced a couple weeks ago stating that the NHL salary cap may not go up.)
The Maple Leafs will have some tough decisions to make. Though their defense core, minus Franson, is under contract for next season, Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier is a restricted free agent following the year and will also likely be looking for a raise from his current $2.9 million salary. Nazem Kadri, also making $2.9 million and a pending RFA, is similarly in line for a bump.
But the Leafs will enjoy Franson’s production for now and, following American Thanksgiving, be thankful the trade for Gorges didn’t pan out.