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:
Looking at the capcrunch & the number of waiver ineligible dmen on the Leafs you again have to ask: "Why the fuck did Nonis qualify Fraser?"
— SkinnyFish (@SkinnyPPPhish) September 11, 2013
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:
Leafs d-man Mark Fraser will wear a visor this season and in fact the rest of his career. His forehead can't risk another major impact.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) September 13, 2013
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.