The Curious Case of Cody Franson

It’s been three weeks and Cody Franson doesn’t have a contract. If you search his name on Google, you’ll be flooded with reports that the huge, offensively minded defenceman is speaking with teams all around the league. Most recent reports suggest he’s in talks with the Boston Bruins, who recently shipped their best blue-liner, Dougie Hamilton, to the Calgary Flames. And of course, there’s talk that he’s open to come back to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team he spent the majority of his career with before being dealt back to the Nashville Predators, who drafted him 79th overall in 2005.

Other than Franson, all of the big name defencemen are off the market now. There are a few solid veterans, some potential reclamation projects, but all of the big names – Sekera, Martin, Green, Beauchemin — were locked up on the first day of free agency. So what’s the deal with Franson? Is it him? Are his demands too high for the calibre of player he is? There appears to be interest around the league, but for whatever reason, teams seem to be skeptical of handing out a fat contract for Franson’s services. 

That seems a little bizarre, because he may be the best defenceman of the entire bunch — and he still has room to improve. 

THE NUMBERS

Let’s start by looking at what Franson brings to the table based on his numbers. At a basic glance of his stats sheet, he logs a decent amount of minutes and he produces offensively, largely due to success on the power play.

Since breaking into the league in 2009, Franson has played 400 games. In those games, he’s put up 35 goals and 134 assists, which puts him 36th among all defencemen in points scored over those six seasons. If that’s as far as you want to go into analysis, you can conclude that he’s a pretty good offensive defenceman because he’s produced at a high level throughout his career. 

But what about his advanced stats? Looking at these numbers can do a better job at determining whether or not Franson himself actually makes the team better, as basic stats can be somewhat misleading. I mean, he’s clearly produced, but has be been a product of a strong offensive environment, or does he actually make the team better? 

I’ll start with his second season in Toronto (2012-13) because that’s when he started working his way into a bigger role with the team, logging an average of 18:47 minutes of ice time per game. This was the year the Leafs made the playoffs despite having some of the ugliest advanced stats in the league. Many assumed that had this been a full season rather than one shortened due to a lockout, the Leafs’ poor underlying play would have caught up to them, and they would have fallen off a cliff, similar to the way they did in 2013-14. Anyways, that’s not the point. Franson had a pretty forgettable 45.5 even strength Corsi For percentage that season, but in fairness to him, it was a lot better than the numbers his teammates put up. When he wasn’t on the ice, the Leafs were a catastrophe, putting up a measly 43.6 Corsi For percentage. This is pretty impressive considering Franson faced the second most difficult competition on the team behind Dion Phaneuf, meaning the majority of his teammates faced weaker competition than him and put up inferior numbers. 

The next season is when Franson became a top pairing defenceman. Was he actually a legitimate top pairing guy? Maybe not, but the Leafs played him like one and he fared admirably. His playing time was bumped up to 20:42 minutes per game and his zone starts shifted well in favour of the defensive zone. His 53.0 per cent defensive zone starts was the highest of his career to that point and the level of competition he faced remained similar to the level of competition he faced the year before. His 44.9 even strength Corsi For percentage was the lowest of his career, but like the year before, it was much better than the number his teammates put up. 2014-15 was more of the same. In 55 games with Toronto last season, his playing time spiked to 21:23 minutes per game, with an unimpressive 47.3 Corsi For percentage, but in relation to his teammates, he was strong.

See a trend here? I’ll finish this off looking at his stint with the Predators, which is an interesting situation because despite the fact many seem to think he was a bust in Nashville, his numbers were fantastic. In those 23 games, Franson was fed difficult competition and zone starts. He started 56.1 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone, far and way the most in his career, and still managed a 57.0 Corsi For percentage at even strength. The first thought is that this is the result of playing in a strong system, but the 4.7 relative Corsi For percentage would suggest that Nashville was simply better with him on the ice than they were without him. Good numbers in relation to teammates, difficult zone starts and competition? While some credit has to be given to the team and the system, some also has to be given to Franson. 

So what do all of these numbers mean? It’s really difficult to isolate and measure players individually in the NHL because hockey is such a fluid, team game. No matter what, a player’s statistics will be affected by a tremendous amount of factors that aren’t their fault individually, and aren’t entirely the result of their own doing. That’s why it’s important to augment stats with, you know, actually watching the game. But in this case, we have a player that pretty clearly manages to make his team better.

At no point in Cody Franson’s NHL career has he had a negative Corsi For percentage in relation to his teammates. Regardless of where he’s played, who he’s played with, who’s he’s played against, or where he’s started his shifts, the team is better when he’s on the ice than when he isn’t. This is because no matter what, Franson helps to produce a lot of offensive chances when he’s on the ice. In the same vein, his team also allows a lot of chances against when he’s on the ice. Despite that, he still manages to put up positive numbers in relation to his teammates. This suggests that his offensive prowess is so strong and has such a large impact on his team when he’s on the ice, that it manages to outweigh his inadequacies on the defensive side of the game. Ultimately, the goal of any player or team is to increase its odds of scoring over the opponent, and while Franson allows his fair share of chances against, what he brings to the table offensively seems to make up for it. 


THE EYE TEST

So what about the eye test? By judging some opinions floating around different blogs and forums, I think it’s pretty easy to say that if there’s one thing Franson fails at, it’s the eye test. The guy is huge, but he doesn’t exactly have the greatest wheels in the league. On top of that, he isn’t overly physical, either. Every once in a while he’ll dish out a big hit, but he doesn’t do it nearly enough for him to be considered a physical defenceman. Unfortunately for Franson, those two things coupled with his size make him a weirdly unattractive player to the casual observer. Even though, like I mentioned above, he produces and makes his team better, his size and skill leave you asking for more. On top of that, as many Leaf fans will attest, Franson makes a lot of boneheaded decisions. Passes up the middle to nobody, soft giveaways, coupled with being a big, slow guy who doesn’t engage much physically and you have the epitome of a player who fails the eye test. To me, Franson is the type of player where the things he does well fly under the radar, while the things he does poorly stand out with a massive exclamation point. Yet despite that, he still makes his teams better regardless of how many ugly giveaways he makes, how many big hits he doesn’t make, and how much his skating resembles a turtle. When it’s all said and done, his pros manage to outweigh his cons and he makes the team he plays for better when he steps on the ice.

I don’t really have an explanation for why Franson hasn’t signed a contract yet. I’m not sure if it’s him being picky, or it’s GMs being skeptical to hand out big dollars and terms to a guy like him. All I can say is that whoever signs him is getting a player who can make a beautiful first pass, lay the occasional big hit, produce nicely offensively, log minutes, play in a variety of situations, and leave you wanting more, because although he’s a damn good player, his size and skill set suggests he can be even better. I get that there’s a cap crunch keeping teams from going hard in free agency, but if teams are willing to hand out dollars and term to Andrej Sekera, Mike Green, and Jeff Petry, there’s really no reason not to do the same for Cody Franson. When it’s all said and done, I suspect he’ll be the best player out of that bunch. 

Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference

  • Ziom

    Why arent we dumping Nikitin and acquiring this guy? Even if Franson is a bust, we wouldn’t have lost anything. its not like Nikitin would have been better.

    • Oilerz4life

      Buyout window is closed now and we probably don’t have the cap space to do so as is. If a team was willing to take nikitin via trade (without another bad contract coming back), i think cherelli would have pulled the trigger already.

    • bradleypi

      Lol how do you just dump someone? Pretty sure the oilers aren’t in a position to just “dump” nhl players for nothing. Especially defence. And if franson is bust they don’t lose anything??? How about the millions of dollars that he will collect to be a bust. Someone’s losing those. And if he is a bust, we all know that oilersnation would be up in arms and calling Chiarelli the worst gm in the league. (re. Nikitin & mact).

      In saying all that, I agree CL, that franson might be the best of that bunch. Guy has all the tools to be a number one. Skates well, good shot and size. Reminds me of petry in that way. Had all the tools but couldn’t put it together to get to the next level. If franson figures it out, he’ll be a beast for sure.

      • Randaman

        Split on this comment Bradleypi.

        I agree with your first paragraph but can’t agree with your assessment of Franson.

        Skates well? Sorry, don’t see it.

        Can’t turn and defend against the up and coming speed game either.

        We can agree to disagree on this one.

    • JackB

      We currently have 25 players under contract and on our roster. We have to get to a 23 man roster before the start of the regular season. And the only players who can be moved to the AHL without having to clear waivers are Reinhart and Klefbom. (AND WE SURE AIN’T MOVING KLEFBOM) (nor Reinhart . . . he cost us a #16 and #33 . . . and he was a STUD with the Oil Kings)

      And you can’t just “dump” a player . . . ALL NHL CONTRACTS ARE GUARANTEED . . . so you have to waive him to the AHL, at which point he is no longer on your roster . . . but he is still one of your 50 maximum contracts.

      If you’ve got a bad contact, your stuck with it!! (unless you can get another team to take it off your hands . . . AND THAT USUALLY COSTS YOU SOMETHING . . . a good young prospect . . . and/or picks (ie future young prospects) . . . being a GM isn’t just about getting you all the good players you’d like to have (RIGHT NOW PLEASE!) . . . regardless of the cost . . . it is more about proper management of the assets you have . . . AND FILLING THE PIPELINE with future prospects. If we were to “dump” Nikitin (as you put it) and sign Franson, then we would be up to 48 contracts . . . which leaves us very little room to sign someone else later . . . or offer a contact to someone we have invited to camp on a try-out . . . there were some very interesting invitees to the rookie development camp? It’s called “stocking your pipeline” for the future !!

      LEAVE IT TO THE PROS SON (That’s why we hired Chiarelli and dumped MacTavish)

      And if Nikitin isn’t better than last year, send him to Bakersfield and get him the hell out of camp! And if he shows up out of shape again . . . don’t even let his skates touch the ice . . . send him to Bakersfield (even though all the AHLers will be at camp) and he can work out alone in the Bakersfield fitness room and ice !!!!

      And you can be sure of one thing . . . Chiarelli ain’t finished yet ! He might even make some moves early into the season? But I’m sure he wants to see what he’s got now . . . under playing conditions.

      • Harry2

        I don’t base my opinions from articles. I base them upon watching the games. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. I’d say he’s a 3 million dollar guy. He’s certainly not a difference maker. He’s an ok 2nd pair guy. But preferably on a good team he’d be a third.

        Not sure why everyone thinks he’s a big name Dman?

    • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

      I bet this is exactly what’s happening. His agent is waiting for teams to get desperate, because right now, no team is willing to shell out 1st pairing money to a 2nd pairing defenseman.

  • Randaman

    We do NOT need a big, slow, semi-soft defenceman that has obviously priced himself out of the market.

    He is just ok offensively and not that great defensively.

    I say good on all the G.M.’s for finally showing some restraint this Free Agent season. The cap is finally working in my opinion.

  • Cheap Shot Charlie

    Would it suprize anyone if he signed for $3.5M for one year and re-entered free agency next year? He needs to go to a team that is on the cusp of a playoff spot and help out a lot to prove he’s worth 6x$6M

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Signing Franson or Erhoff would push Fayne to #4 and Shultz to #6, creating a stable defensive group.

    Sekera Franson

    Klefbom Fayne

    Gryba Shultz

    Ference -(Nurse/Reinhart Top pairing in the AHL)

  • JackB

    I would be wary that Franson could turn into another Nikitin big dollars and an expert at give aways. I haven’t watched him play enough to say for sure how good a player he is but no long term risks this offseason would be a better decision for the Oilers.
    We signed the best FA defenseman available this summer and traded for another solid guy in Gryba that fills a couple of significant holes the team had last season with Nurse and Reinhart pushing the incumbents. Lets see what happens after training camp when management knows what it has.

  • JackB

    Wasn’t Cody Franson a healthy scratch (in some games) on his last two teams ?

    And didn’t he say (before free agency even started) he wants to go back to Toronto ?

    Nikitin was a healthy scratch for Columbus before we signed him . . . haven’t we learned ?????

  • Jaxon

    Great article. Someone help explain this to me.

    I’m seeing a big disconnect between the eye test and the stats. How is he perceived as someone who doesn’t hit enough yet he has the 18th most hits among D in the NHL? Defensively, he also has the 8th most takeaways and 38th most blocked shots. Combine that with his very positive advanced stats and it doesn’t say lack of compete to me. It says just the opposite.

    Offensively: 44th most shots, 55th most goals, 15th most PP goals, 19th most PP Pts, 40th most ES As and 56th most ES Pts.

    There are 60 top pair players in the league. That puts him in the top pair in every one of those stats.

    Put together the hits, takeaways, blocked shots and advanced stats with his great offensive numbers, his huge size and his age and you have a monster of a player.

    His stats (advanced and otherwise) make it sound like he is one of the most involved players in the league. Is the fact that he is often very involved in the play that any mistakes he makes stand out more? But that also doesn’t agree with what many say about the ‘eye test’. By ‘eye’, it seems like he lacks compete and makes a lot of bad blunders. But if that was the case, he wouldn’t have the kind of stats he does. Not even close. What gives?

    • JackB

      You are right. Dennis King (on Lowtide) said the same thing ! “I don’t like the eye test, but when I look at the stats, I’m impressed. It’s kinda like I don’t like the look of the cake, but it sure tastes good.” (not his exact words . . . but I didn’t write them down!)

      HEY! . . . Are you Dennis King (posting under an alias?)

  • JackB

    I say we have enough new additions to try and incorporate into the team…………I like his size but cant remember too many highlights with his name attached to it.

    Like most people wondering about why he has not been signed……….I too wonder if he has already a contract in hnad, waiting for his new team to clear some space?

    • @S_2_H

      A team can be over the cap in the middle of the summer so I don’t buy this angle. Do you think he would really sit around, rejecting other offers hoping a team he likes makes cap room?

  • Wanyes bastard child

    Franson was prone to make boneheaded plays in Nashville. That or get blown past in fast paced hockey. He trips a lot when he skates, doesn’t intimidate anyone, he’d be out of the league if he didn’t fling wrist/snappers at the net from all angles. Nashville fans would rather play Volchenkov, Bittetto, or Victor Bartley. All who’d id take over Franson. I’d rather have Volcheckov running around like a madman. Fransons advanced stats are a glitch and everybody knows it.

  • Ndustry

    This is a good article to criticize peoples interpretation of advanced stats. As his play in nashville despite being the best of his statistical career was also the most highly criticized. You mention a players individual production being the result of a “strong offensive environment” and how advanced stats tell a deeper story. Well this is where I kinda disagree, when you play on the top half of a team your relative to teammate stats might be the result of a “strong offensive environment”. Infact – it’s likely.

    And although you mention the higher quality of competition your also playing with the highest quality of teammates and your being deployed to attack and take advantage of the weaker situations you put your opponents in. Whether they are tired on on a downwards momentum spin they sick you out to attack!

    So I argue that despite what most people typically interpret advanced stats to mean they use them just as poorly as many view basic stats. Being on the thrid and forth line and being forced to whether the storms your team finds themselves in and doing so all while playing with a “lower quality” teammate – to me – is a much more difficult task. The juices you get flowing are different and how you feel when the opposition capitalizes on you when your put out there in the games down turns is far more draining they the glory of of the offensive top half. And then your “stats” suck too and it looks like the whole team is doing better than you are. This is simply not the case.

    Now Franson may be criticized for being not “physical” enough here but that’s also highly misleading. you say he puts up a big hit once in a while but not enough to considered “physical”. Well… he led all Defencemen in the league for hits in 2014. So he is quite physical actually. The problem your referring to I’ve heard been best described as “tenacious”. He doesn’t attack the opposition. The thing is he knows he’s a little slow and consequently doesn’t want to get beat so he backs off, gives the opposing attackers a little too much room and sometimes gives up his own blueline too easily. He’s backing off so he doesn’t get out hustled. He does however hold the offensive blueline quite well and does pinch alot and has a quick wrist shot which is why is accredited offensively so much. He’s also a good passer. I have to wonder about a slow defender pinching though, I think that could create some worries and problems.

    Anyway I think you have to take into context all these stats and listen to what you hear about a player to make an informend decision. And then make a scouting decision based on skill set and your current balance of your skill set. What type of skill does the player offer, is it better than what we already have? Does he add variety and diversity to our skill set making us more versatile? Or is he just more of the same? And if so is he better at it? I think Franson has alot of intangibles that go somewhat underlooked including his physicality and brings a number of things other players don’t and what he brings is high quality. He plays in a number of situations and excels at all of them. However he has obvious weaknesses and if you don’t have the balance in skill set to compensate for them maybe his pros won’t outweigh the cons. For the Oilers I think he’s a good fit.

    Compare him to all the possibilities though and it depends what your after. Erhoff is another free agent who looks statistically good. Schenn is on the trade bait block and would place higher amongst our depth than many other teams. My favorite though who I think is the most versatile and safest bet of anyone mentioned to be available is Kyle Quincey, set to become a UFA next year and Detroit is looking to dump out a veteran to make a spot for a prospect. Erhoff and Franson may have him out “stat’d” but I haven’t heard anyone say either one of them might their teams “best” defender like I’ve heard Detroit fans mention and refer to Quincey. Plus he’s the most versatile of the bunch and easily the “safest” bet out of anyone I’ve heard to available.

  • “…basic stats can be somewhat misleading…”

    All stats are flawed and misleading. Just ask Dallas Eakins and Tyler Dellow.

    As an aside, there is nothing “fancy” or “advanced” about the trendy stats. They are all just basic stats.

  • 15w40

    I still think it would be good to get him under contract for 3 years or so at 4.25M AAV.

    Oilers don’t really have any wiggle room now that they have decided not to buy out Nikitin or Ference so I would say they are not even thinking about it.

    If at the start of the 2016/17 season your defense looked like the following – that should be an ok group to go to war with.

    Sekera
    Klefbom
    Franson
    Nurse
    Shultz
    Reinhart
    Gryba
    Davidson

  • Oilerz4life

    This is almost old news now (as far as the Oilers are concerned). The buy out window passed and Nikitin wasn’t bought out, for whatever reason 🙁 Corporate penny pinching?

    This has turned out to be another bologna trade rumor. Pipe dream. Shea Weber? Dead horse. Flogged. What now?