The rebuild has officially begun in Toronto, with the Leafs sending Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators for Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.
Franson and Santorelli will be useful additions to the playoff-bound Predators, who sit first in the NHL and will be even better after this deal. Both players are on expiring contracts, with Franson pulling in $3.3 million this year and Santorelli making $1.5 million.
Toronto, on the other hand, gets a first-round pick, a middling prospect and an over-the-hill veteran who will be gone this summer.
Franson had six goals and 32 points in 55 games with the Maple Leafs this season, his fourth with the club since he was originally acquired from Nashville in 2011. He was second on the team in average ice time at 21:23.
The 27-year-old Franson was the Predators’ third-round pick (79th overall) in 2005, and spent two seasons in Nashville before the trade.
The deal is also a homecoming for 29-year-old Santorelli, who was a Nashville sixth-round pick (178th overall) in 2004. He spent two seasons in Nashville before stints with the Panthers, Jets and Canucks.
Going the other way is Jokinen, a 36-year-old UFA this summer making $2.5 million. The former third overall pick has been a disappointment in Nashville, with just three goals, six points and 26 penalty minutes through 48 games. Jokinen is as well-travelled as they come, with stops in Los Angeles, New York (Islanders and Rangers), Florida, Arizona, Calgary and Winnipeg.
The Leafs also get Leipsic, a small 20-year-old center drafted by Nashville in the third round (89th overall) in 2012. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Winnipeg native played junior for the Portland Winterhawks and turned pro this season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. He has seven goals and 35 points in 47 games in the AHL.
Toronto also gets a low first-round pick out of Nashville in the deal.
The 6-foot-5, 213-pound Franson returns to the team that drafted him as a much-improved defender. He scored five goals and a career-high 33 points last season while skating in 79 games, and is two points away from eclipsing that total this season.
The coveted right-handed shooter will shore up a defence that already boasts the likes of Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones.
Nashville also gets a bargain in Santorelli, who signed with the Leafs on the cheap last summer and has been one of their most valuable utility players. Santorelli has 11 goals and 29 points in 57 games playing mostly on the Leafs’ third line.
Nashville general manager David Poile should be very happy with his haul. He paid a small price for one of the most coveted rental players on the market in Franson, and picked up the inexpensive and useful Santorelli in the deal.
Nonis, on the other hand, might have been wise to wait another week in hopes of a better return.
The Leafs essentially get a late first-round pick this summer and a prospect who may or may not make the NHL some day. Jokinen was a salary dump, and it’s hard to picture the Leafs or anyone else signing him again after this summer.
Nashville gets stronger and the Leafs scorch a little earth on their way to a rebuild.