Odds are Cody Franson will be moved before the March 2 trade deadline unless the Toronto Maple Leafs have a change of heart on what they’re willing to agree to contractwise with the pending UFA blueliner.
The Leafs and Franson’s agent Gerry Johansson chatted last week. Toronto expressed willingness to do something in the neighborhood of three years and around $4.4 million to $4.5 million a year.
That’s just not going to cut it for a defenseman of his ilk who knows he can get six to seven years on the July 1 market at easily north of $5 million -- even with the Canadian dollar hammering the salary cap. Think Matt Niskanen this past offseason and his seven-year deal worth $5.75 million a year; there's no reason Franson can’t be in the same range.
So Leafs fans certainly can’t blame Franson for politely saying no to Toronto’s initial approach last week. And let’s be clear, Franson would rather stay in Toronto. But the Leafs have to bend on their offer. And I don’t think they will.
I’m here to tell you: I think the Leafs are also doing the right thing here. If I’m Toronto, I’m not shelling out a six- or seven-year deal.
Listen, we all agree that this roster and payroll need major restructuring. Adding yet another monster long-term deal to the collection makes zero sense at this point. The Leafs have to be about roster/cap flexibility moving forward as they start redoing this whole thing.
So really, Franson and the Leafs both have it right here: A divorce serves both sides best. And who knows, the Leafs could always try to sign him come the offseason.
In the meantime, Toronto should get a nice return on a top-end right-handed rental defenseman before March 2, and they are assets this team needs to start piling up.
I would think at least a second-round pick plus either a young NHLer or a solid prospect could be a return on Franson. Could the pick become a low first-rounder if the bidding war gets hot? You never know.
There are a lot of teams interested in him, including the likes of Detroit and Los Angeles, both in need of a top-four right-handed defenseman. Nashville is another team we heard has expressed some interest. Of course, the Predators drafted Franson, so there’s some history there. They know the player.
In the end, there will be lots of teams in on a coveted player like Franson. Top-end blueliners are hard to come by at this time of year.