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Numbers Game: Leafs add Franson, Lombardi, lose Lebda

Scott Cullen
7/3/2011 2:00:53 PM
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Using their financial might, the Toronto Maple Leafs upgraded their defence with the acquisition of a towering young blueliner.

Numbers Game examines a deal that nets the Maple Leafs Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi, while only costing them Brett Lebda off the current roster.

The Maple Leafs Get: C Matthew Lombardi and D Cody Franson.

Speedy centre Matthew Lombardi, 29, is capable of providing offence but, after suffering what turned out to be a season-ending concussion in the second game of the 2010-2011 season, he's entirely a roll of the dice at this point and the Maple Leafs happen to be an organization with the resources that they can afford to take the risk.

If Lombardi can play next season, it will increase the Maple Leafs' options in their top six and they will be better for it, but Lombardi's status remains an uncertain proposition given his health and, as a team spending near the cap, the Leafs can put Lombardi on Long Term Injured Reserve.

He's signed for two more seasons, at a cap hit of $3.5-million. 

23-year-old Cody Franson plays protected minutes, only a little over 15 per game last season and against the weakest opposition among Nashville defencemen (according to www.behindthenet.ca), but he's productive enough in that role.

Franson is one of nine defencemen in the entire league to have at least 20 points and a double-digit plus rating in each of the last two seasons.

If Franson is going to rise above his status as a third pair defenceman, who can contribute on the power play, then the 6-foot-5 blueliner will need to use his size more forcefully.

Yet, even if he doesn't evolve into more than he already is (as disappointing as that might be), he's a modest $800,000 cap hit.

Franson's presence does leave the Maple Leafs with some depth on the blueline, as Mike Komisarek may be a high-priced ($4.5-million cap hit) seventh defencemen if the Leafs don't deal him -- perhaps to a team climbing to the floor.

Considering what they gave up in this deal, the Leafs have to be satisfied. They're a better team because of it and all it really cost was money, and there's no shortage of that available.

The Predators Get: D Brett Lebda, LW Robert Slaney and a conditional fourth-round pick.

Lebda, 29, struggled in his first season with the Maple Leafs, finishing at minus-14 in 41 games, despite playing a meagre 13:20 per game. No longer protected by the strong supporting cast in Detroit, Lebda was exposed far too frequently, so a fresh start somewhere else is best for him.

He may not be a prominent player in Nashville, but Lebda's years in Detroit would have allowed Nashville a good look at him, so they may be able to find a better use for his mobility on the back end.  If nothing else, he could fall in as a seventh defenceman.

Slaney was presumably included just to give the Maple Leafs room on their 50-man reserve list. He scored 24 points in 61 ECHL games last season, so he does not appear to have an AHL future, let alone an NHL future.

The conditional fourth-round pick is dependent on the number of games Lombardi plays. If he does happen to resume his career at its previous level, the fourth-round pick is a bargain, a small consolation for the Predators.

Freeing up some room financially, the Predators have other areas to address with that money. The team's best player, defenceman Shea Weber, is going to arbitration and possibly looking at a contract extension. Either way, he's due some big bucks.

Additionally, the Predators have four forwards -- Cal O'Reilly, Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk -- that may not have received their qualifying offers on time (it will be arbitrated this week) and if Nashville comes out on the wrong side of that ruling, or they try to come to a resolution beforehand, they will have to pay a premium to keep those players.

As a team with quality prospects on the blueline, Nashville shouldn't have that much trouble filling Franson's role on the blueline.

Roman Josi just completed a strong first year in the AHL, Mattias Ekholm is coming off a strong year in the Swedish Elite League and Ryan Ellis has been dominating major junior for at least the last three seasons. Typically, the Predators give their prospects time in the AHL first, so maybe Josi has a slight edge, but Ekholm and Ellis will have a chance too.

This deal is a classic case of a rich team, Toronto, dealing from a position of financial strength, and getting a decent asset in return for taking on another club's financial obligations.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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