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September 17, 2013 6:11 am

The last thing anyone wants to do with hockey finally beginning again is talk about contract situations. The action on the ice is back and yet here we stand (as of the writing of this article) with the Toronto Maple Leafs still yet to come to terms with blueliner Cody Franson. At this point the Franson issue is well known: Toronto is unable to afford the 26 year old defenseman who is coming off of a season in which he finished 8th in scoring among blueliners. As good as Franson was in the regular season he brought his game to another level in the post season where he averaged 22:49 of ice time while recording 6 points in 7 games (including two goals in Game 7). Franson is shockingly willing to come to terms with the Leafs for only $3 million dollars on a one year deal (well below market value). Sounds great right? Only problem is, the Leafs don’t have enough cap space to accommodate even a sweetheart deal like that.

Currently the Leafs have just under $2 million dollars in cap space to re-sign Franson and perhaps fit in free agent winger Mason Raymond. General Manager Dave Nonis can tinker around by demoting both Korbinian Holzer’s $787,500 salary and Trevor Smith’s $550,000. However, regardless of those moves, it is still highly unlikely the Leafs can afford Franson without another shoe dropping.

When looking at the catastrophe that is the Leafs cap situation one cannot help but ask this question:

It’s an absolutely puzzling situation. The Leafs (for reasons beyond my comprehension) qualified journeyman Mark Fraser earlier this summer making him eligible for salary arbitration. Eventually Fraser and the Leafs avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one year $1.275 deal. This deal was one that many glossed over and pushed aside as small and not a problem. Think again, wouldn’t that $1.275 be a nice addition to the dire cap predicament the Leafs currently find themselves in? Had the Leafs not offered Fraser the qualifying offer it would have made him an unrestricted free agent creating a risk that the Leafs perhaps would not have been able to retain him. Would that have been so awful?

Personally, I like Fraser as a bottom pairing defenseman who can contribute on the penalty kill and clear the front of the net. However, let’s call a spade a spade. Among the ten defenseman that played for Randy Carlyle last season Fraser was ninth in average ice time per game at 16:57. The only blueliner that averaged less was Mike Komisarek. At 26 Fraser broke camp with the Leafs having played less than 100 NHL games. Losing Fraser wasn’t going to put a dent into this teams fortunes this coming season or any of the ones moving forward.

Speaking of dents, the Leafs made the qualifying offer to Fraser while he was still dealing with a major injury. Should Fraser fully recover from the fractured skull and concussion that he suffered in the Game 4 of the playoff series against the Boston Bruins (a playoff series that exposed Fraser’s significant lack of speed and puck moving abilities) he will never be able to play the same style that he played prior to the injury. As was reported late last week:

A larger part of Fraser’s appeal to the Leafs (specifically Coach Randy Carlyle) is his willingness to drop the gloves and protect his teammates. Considering that Fraser has been told he cannot sustain any major impact to his forehead I would venture to guess that his fighting days are behind him.

Fraser enters this season behind Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson (once he’s signed) and Paul Ranger. Was putting unnecessary pressure on the cap for a 6th defenseman that wise? Would it have been the worst thing if the Leafs let Fraser test the free agent waters and tried to sign him back at something like the $625,000 that Mike Kostka signed for in Chicago? Or, if Fraser’s demands were too high, replacing him as the 6th defenseman with one of John-Michael Liles (and his untradable contract), rookies Andrew MacWilliam or Jesse Blacker, TJ Brennan or even Kostka himself?

Every single dollar counts in a hard cap league and it’s becoming more and more obvious that the Fraser qualifying offer was a gross miscalculation by Nonis and his management team. The difference between the Leafs being able to re-sign Franson, retain Raymond and perhaps upgrade the team via trade this season has been dramatically hindered by the moronic qualifying offer given to an easily replaceable depth defenseman. In a summer of head scratching moves this Fraser one may be the most confusing.

This article was written by on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 6:11 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • BCapp

    If he wasn’t there there would still be another warm body in his spot on the depth chart, likely Holzer. I we are talking about 500k or so. That 500 k doesn’t solve any of our problems.

    I’m not going to stress abouta 6th dman making 6th dman money

    • hope_smoke

      You need to stress about it when you’re already paying Liles $3.875 to be a healthy scratch. It’s all connected and qualifying Fraser was unnecessary.The problem is, you have to stress about what you pay your 6th defenseman in a hard cap league. Thanks for the comment.

      • TML__fan

        Rather than Fraser, Liles is the most questionable decision (or lack thereof) in my opinion. Liles is overpaid, and his market value in minimal. Nonis had the opportunity to drop Liles with a regular buyout in the summer. It would have saved $3M in cap space for this year and next. Had they done this buyout, they easily would have enough space to sign Franson to a fair deal, and still have space for the likes of Raymond and/or others.

        Nonis doesn’t seem worried, but until he finds a way to sign Franson and others, many of us will question the decisions he made this past summer.

        • hope_smoke

          Had they elected to buyout Liles he would have remained on the cap though throught the 2018-19 season. The damage is already done with Liles. Qualifying Fraser was a worse move than not buying out Liles. I actually agree with the decision to not buy him out. Thanks for the comment.

  • HuGO

    When you fill up a jar you put the big stones in first and fill up the remaining space with smaller stones and sand. It seems like Nonis planned his signings exactly the other way around, first signing Orr, McClaren and Fraser (who imho are all replaceable considering the number of players that are on PTOs) and then addressing the important pieces hoping to force them to sign for cheap based on his self-inflicted “cap-crunch”. Something has to give and I hope it doesn’t mean losing Franson.

    • hope_smoke

      I don’t think it will lead to losing Franson. I hope it doesn’t mean losing Kulemin. Thanks for the comment.

  • AsburyJukes

    Qualifying Fraser McLazer was also as dumb as qualifying Fraser.

    Let’s look at what happened since all the RFAs got qualified at the end of June (I looked at the Leafs’ transaction page on The Score):

    - blew the bank on Bozak and Clarkson
    - extended Bernier to far more cash than he’s ever earned for his playing time
    - extended McLaren to a two year deal (!!!)
    - signed Ranger (disclaimer: I like this deal, but Franson means more to the future than Ranger might….Franson should’ve come first)
    - brought in Smith, the son-in-law, and Brennan.

    All the while, Nonis and Co. left Kadri and Franson flapping in the wind. At least they got around to Kadri, but Franson still waits.

    Misplaced priorities.

    In school it was always suggested to me that on exams I should get the hard stuff done and out of the way, because the easy stuff takes no time at all.

    Nonis did the easy stuff first – but took his time and left five whole minutes to finish that 1000-word essay question. Potato, indeed.

    • hope_smoke

      I’ll go one step further: priority come July 1st should have been to lock up Kessel and Phaneuf (the Leafs have yet to even contact their representatives) about an extension. There’s a great article on Pension Plan Puppets about the Leafs misplace priorities this summer by Clark Aitken. Thanks for the comment

      • AsburyJukes

        Yeah, I read that and it’s 100 percent correct. That’s shades of the Sabre’s old rule about negotiating during the season, and cost them a chance to convince Drury and Briere to stay.

        I really don’t know what these NHL “professionals” think sometimes. But I’ve never played hockey or worked in the NHL so what do I know right? :P

        • hope_smoke

          The Leafs are willing to negotiate in season, Kessel isn’t.

  • Arny

    Andrew MacWilliam or TJ Brennan would have served far better in the bottom pairing than Mark Fraser

  • Kid Ish

    The org has been pumping Liles’ tires too. Makes me think this: the team wanted to play hardball with Kadri and Franson all along by squeezing them at the end. It’s one way to do it, I guess. By showing Liles as a starter, pushing out this narrative that MR might be ready, Franson should “flinch” if he wants to play because TOR has “a ton of backend talent ready to go” (right, right?).

    What bugs me though is that the Leafs have to overpay to get talent. This is a thing that exists. For like 10 years, we’ve been hearing about “changing the culture” and making TOR a destination guys want to come to.

    One of the ways to do that is to stop dicking around with players. This kind of thing can’t be appealing to potential players coming here — without overpaying them, anyway.

    It bugs me. This org hasn’t shed some of the hubris that got it to this place yet, would be my take.