By the time the Red Wings hit the ice for their first game of the 2015-16 season, it will have been more than eight months since winger Johan Franzen suited up in an NHL contest. But the 35-year-old could be ready to go when the upcoming campaign gets underway.
There has been uncertainty about Franzen’s future and whether he’d ever suit up in the NHL again. Concussion issues have plagued him throughout his career — his latest head injury was his fifth documented concussion — but the 10-year veteran says he’ll be ready when the Wings hit the ice in October. At the Ilitch Charities Golf Classic at Oakland Hills, Franzen said he’s already been back on the ice.
"I'll be ready," Franzen told ABC Detroit’s Brad Galli. "I've been skating for a week.”
It’s a relief that Franzen is healthy enough to get back to action, especially in light of the fact he suffered two concussions in less than one year. However, the concern now becomes whether or not he can be the same player the Wings signed to an 11-year, $43.5 million deal in April 2009 and whether he can stay healthy at all.
Before signing his big money, long-term deal with the Red Wings, Franzen was on pace for what would become consecutive 25-plus-goal seasons. In 2008-08, the year he signed his current deal, he was in the midst of a monster 34-goal, 59-point campaign. But since his career year, Franzen has dealt with a laundry list of injuries that have forced him out of game action for more than 150 contests.
While he’s been a frustrating player for Red Wings fans at times — with his goal scoring ability, many see him as a consistent 30-goal player but he’s been unable to muster 30 markers since 2008-09 — most of his offensive “struggles” aren’t due to inconsistency but rather due to injury. Three of his past six seasons, he has scored at a 30-goal pace. In two of the past three, he has been on a 25-tally clip, which is still great production from a power forward outside of his prime.
That said, before his injury in 2014-15, Franzen was on pace for the worst offensive campaign since his breakout in 2008-09. His average ice time slipped by more than two minutes from his career-high 18:42 in 2009-10. Franzen also posted the worst puck possession rate relative to his teammates of his career and it came in a year when he started a greater percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone than ever before. Those aren’t positives for the Red Wings or Franzen.
Under new coach Jeff Blashill, Franzen’s role could very well change. It’s likely he’s not even used in the top-nine and instead utilized as a fourth-line winger and power play specialist. The Red Wings are getting younger and faster up front. Franzen doesn’t fit that mould.
While the hope may be that Franzen can be the Franzen of the past, which is to say a threat for 30 goals, to expect more than 70 games and 15-20 goals out of him seems like a stretch. That could very well be where his production stays for the remaining five years of his 11-year deal. That Franzen is healthy is excellent, but if he can’t change his game to fit what the Red Wings need of him, it might not be injury holding ‘The Mule’ out of the lineup.