Word around the NHL water coolers these days is that there’s a 24-year-old, 6’5″ 215 pound, smooth skating, offensively gifted defenseman available. Naturally Brian Burke and his team of geniuses would be all over that. The only problem is he’s already a member of Burke’s club. If you haven’t figured it out yet the blueline being discussed is new Toronto Maple Leaf Cody Franson.
A big off-season acquisition by Brian Burke, the Leafs had apparently stole this highly regarded young player along with (then injured) Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators for Brett Lebda. Franson was going to become a solidifying component of the blue and white back-end, and also run the second power play unit. Look at the strong play of Carl Gunnarsson and you’ll see exactly the type of player the Leafs thought they were acquiring in Franson. Unfortunately things hit a snag, Franson had a tough training camp (though he was better than both Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn) and began the year as the seventh defenseman. As the Leafs came out of the gate on fire to start the year, Franson started complaining to the media, and made his situation significantly worse than it should have been.
Considering Franson has only dressed for 4 of the Leafs 16 games this season along with his complaints to the media, his name has risen to the forefront of all Leaf related trade talk. Of course certain players do not mesh with particular clubs, it happens all the time. However, why would the Leafs unload Franson now? His value around the league has never been lower. In my opinion the time is now to give Franson a steady run of games with the Leafs. With the Leafs having lost three of the last four and having potted only five goals in that stretch, the time is right for Franson to return to the lineup.
In his four games this season, Franson has definitely looked off. David Jones made him look awful as he went by him to score the overtime winner for Colorado, and the Boston Bruins completely exposed the big blueliner on October 20 (Franson finished with a -3 that night in a 6-2 Leafs loss). Never having been a fan of a player getting yo-yo’d in and out of the lineup, one cannot get a proper idea of Cody until he plays some consistent games free of the fear of losing his spot should he make a mistake. The Leafs have stuck with both Mike Komisarek and Schenn through their struggles this season, Franson deserves the same opportunity. His offensive instincts have been on display so far, and his hammer of a slap shot can only benefit the stagnant Leafs offense.
Allow the young player some time in the lineup to relax and get his confidence back. If the Leafs are serious about shopping him, they need him to rediscover the form that made him so valuable in Nashville. Franson is going to need to play and it needs to be soon if he is to get back to being that player.
I imagine some people may have an issue with the idea of sitting Jake Gardiner, but I think the timing is perfect. Gardiner has undoubtedly been one of the strongest Leaf defenders this season. He has been solid on the penalty kill and his skating and transition game have been very good. An in form Franson excels in those areas as well, so theoretically the loss of Gardiner shouldn’t be felt. If the Leafs continue to play poorly the media will inevitably turn on this squad. Is it a good thing for Gardiner’s development to be around that circus? Let the youngster sit in the press box for a couple of games, and allow Franson to have his shot.
People may suggest sitting Komisarek, but the revitalized veteran will not come out of the lineup while Schenn seems to finally be coming around. The only candidate to sit out is young Jake. Many people have been comparing Gardiner’s emergence this season with that of Tomas Kaberle. In Kaberle’s rookie season he was a healthy scratch over 20 times.
All rookies sit from time to time. If the Leafs go to Gardiner and express their satisfaction with his play, yet inform him that this is the nature of the beast the rookie will only benefit from watching some games from above. Should Franson rediscover his form and take Gardiner’s place permanently, sent Gardiner to the Marlies (like they did with both Keith Aulie and Nazem Kadri) and allow him to dominate in the AHL until a spot opens back up.