Cody Franson would like to have been with his teammates when they took to the ice for the first time this week, but instead the 26-year-old restricted free agent remains unsigned with training camp set to roll on.
In a statement delivered exclusively to TSN.ca Thursday evening, Franson expressed optimism that a resolution would come to pass in the very near future.
"I really like playing in Toronto,” he said. “I think we have a great team and we have some unfinished business to take care of. I learned a lot from the coaches last year and felt like my game took a step forward. I understand the cap situation this team faces and have been ready to sign a one-year deal for some time. I hope this gets worked out soon so I can get back on the ice with my teammates"
Franson wants to remain in Toronto and the Leafs would like to keep him, believing in his promise as an eventual top-4 defender. But the two sides are entrenched in entirely different terms on a contract.
Though he would not discuss actual figures for the negotiation, Franson is believed to be open to a one-year deal worth $3 million – cognizant of the cap coming down this year – a number that would seem to fall below his perceived value following a career year in 2013. The Leafs however, are not inclined to sign him to a one-year deal under any circumstance, seeing no benefit to such an outcome while faced with the prospect of an even more challenging negotiation next summer if Franson were to produce another strong year this season.
Instead, the Leafs are believed to prefer two years at what they would contend is a fair number for both sides, thereby bringing the B.C. native to the gates of unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015. If Franson were to reach expectations under such a scenario, it's conceivable that the organization could extend him long-term after just a year. Such an offer though does not appear to interest Franson, who endured a similarly difficult negotiation last winter, acquiescing to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million on the eve of training camp.
Franson had the best season of his four-year NHL career in the lockout-shortened 2013, finishing amongst the league leaders at his position with 29 points in 45 games, adding three goals and six points in the playoffs. But while he offered plenty of promise as a top-4 defender – his ice-time increasing from less than 14 minutes in January to upwards of 22 in April – the Leafs are not sure he's there yet and would like to see him continue to progress in such a direction before they pay him as such. As is the way with restricted free agency, leverage is in their corner.
“I understand his position,” Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said at a press conference on Wednesday. “He doesn't feel that this is fair. We want him signed, I'd like to have Cody at camp, but he's not here and we just have to move forward with the group we have.”
Franson has and had limited options, one of which was arbitration, a direction he opted not to take, possibly out of concern that certain variables of the case (his minutes per game, for example) could skew the award. Another option is the seldom-used offer sheet; Carolina believed to be mulling such an avenue before ultimately signing Ron Hainsey to a one-year deal on Thursday afternoon. Beyond that, the player has little power beyond standing firm and remaining off the ice and out of camp, an approach P.K. Subban took without much success in Montreal last winter.
There is of course danger to such a direction. Believing his offer is fair, Nonis could lose patience with the process and squeeze Franson further with a longer deal at an even lower number. With no control, other than to sit out or attempt to force a trade, Franson would be forced to absorb such a blow.
Frustration is evident for both sides in this negotiation. Franson isn't inclined to remain off the ice and wants to stay in Toronto, but also wants the value he deems to be fair and is willing to hold tight to get it. The Leafs similarly want to keep Franson and believe in his potential, but won't go for one year and won't stray higher than what they would contend is a suitable amount at two year.
Thus the impasse remains.