TORONTO – For the third time in three years the Maple Leafs and Cody Franson went down to the wire and begrudgingly agreed to a one-year deal.
Due for player-elected salary arbitration in Toronto on Monday, Franson came to a last-minute agreement with the Leafs, inked for one more season at $3.3 million, a raise from the $2 million he garnered a year ago.
Acquired in a trade from Nashville in the summer of 2011, the 26-year-old has butted heads with the organization in each and every contract negotiation, settling for a series of one-year deals which have highlighted the divide in presumed value between the two sides.
Franson's camp believes his value is evident in production that ranks favourably at the defensive position – his 62 points over the past two seasons ranks 20th amongst NHL defenders – and a growing physical game – he led all blueliners in hits a year ago. He also showed comparatively strong possession numbers on a weak possession team and helped anchor a strong Toronto power-play unit.
The Leafs were frustrated, however, with his defensive limitations and proved to be disappointed in his overall performance as a top-four defender last season.
Hence, the ongoing divide.
In the winter of 2013, the contract showdown lasted right up until the end of the lockout, an agreement for $1.2 million reached while Franson played overseas in Sweden. Last fall, coming off a breakout 48-game campaign, he and the Leafs remained, nonetheless, far apart in negotiations, finally landing (with some frustration) on another one-year deal worth $2 million with only two games to go in the preseason. It was a bargain the B.C. native felt he had no choice but to take. A restricted free agent one last time this summer, but with more leverage in the form of salary arbitration, Franson squeezed out a raise of $1.3 million.
Yet to be embraced by the organization and set for unrestricted free agency next summer, he remains a candidate to be moved. Toronto has already restructured much of its previously mishmashed defence, bringing in a pair of Western Conference mainstays, Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak, aboard earlier in the summer. They also boast internal candidates – Petter Granberg, Stuart Percy, Korbinian Holzer and Andrew MacWilliam – who may be ready to step into the NHL next season, thus filling Franson's void if he were to be moved.
The Leafs, who project to have plenty of cap space remaining, continue to work on new contracts for Jake Gardiner and James Reimer. Reimer, who is likely returning to the club next season despite a desire to start fresh elsewhere, is scheduled for salary arbitration on July 28th.