After two disappointing seasons in Buffalo, Cody Franson is headed back to the free agent market. He didn’t really gel with the Sabres, as you can see based on his worse-than-usual production, but Franson is still the same big, skilled defenceman who can shoot bombs from the point, making him an attractive option for many teams in need of depth on the blueline.
Who is he?
Just two years ago, Cody Franson was rolling into the offseason with his eyes on a lucrative multi-year contract. He was 27 years old and over the previous few seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs had broken out as a good defenceman who could provide offensively. I mean, to show where his value was at, Franson was traded along with teammate Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators for a first round pick, a solid prospect in Brendan Leipsic, and Olli Jokinen as a cap dump.
But July 1 came, and the offers didn’t. The other big name free agents that summer — Andrej Sekera, Mike Green, and Paul Martin — quickly signed big, multi-year deals, but Franson remained available. Finally, in the middle of September, the Buffalo Sabres offered Franson a two-year deal worth $3.325 million annually, and he went with it.
Since then, Franson has kind of drifted into the background. His two years in Buffalo were pretty forgettable, largely because of how bad the team was, and this summer, he’s heading into another free agent period with virtually zero hype around his name.
Despite that, Franson is still a good player and an attractive free agent. Both of his seasons with the Sabres were limited due to injury, but when he was playing, Franson was one of the Sabres’ better defencemen. He put up 0.29 points-per-game in Buffalo, significantly below his production in Toronto, but that’s largely because he wasn’t given minutes on the power play. Franson’s 50.1 Corsi For percentage (+3.8 rel) is the best among any Sabres’ defenceman who played over 500 minutes the past two seasons, and based on his with and without numbers, it’s pretty clear that Franson was a driving force behind making his teammates better.
But beyond the statistics, Franson is still the same player he was heading into summer 2015. He’s a big body who doesn’t skate all that well, but can make a great first pass and has a hammer from the blue line on the power play. That said, he tends to make boneheaded decisions — random passes to nobody, giveaways at inopportune times, and so on — which was a key consideration a couple years ago when teams ultimately wouldn’t give him that big, multi-year deal.
How much is he going to cost?
Last time, Franson signed a three-year contract worth $3.325 million annually. Back then, he was coming off of a season in which he produced 32 points in 55 games with the Leafs before joining a loaded Predators blueline in a depth role. So you have to think that he isn’t going to be getting any kind of pay raise after back-to-back seasons putting up fewer than 20 points.
Even though the free agent market is thin, Franson’s past two seasons haven’t done a hell of a lot to inspire confidence. If Franson gets a similar cap hit to the one he had in Buffalo the past two seasons, it’ll likely be on a one-year deal. If he’s going to sign for two years again, I imagine it’ll be at a discounted rate.
Can Buffalo afford it?
They certainly can. Being a young team, the Sabres have a good chunk of their roster locked up and have a lot of cap space to work with. Their only housekeeping tasks as of right now are signing both Anders Nilsson and Robin Lehner, and then, of course, improving on this team.
Like I said, Franson was low-key one of Buffalo’s best defencemen over the past two seasons, which is partially a testament to him being a serviceable player but also an indication of how terrible Buffalo’s blueline actually is. So they would certainly be smart to bring him back, especially if it’s on the cheap like last time.
If he hits the open market…
But if you’re Franson, why on earth would you want to go back to Buffalo?
Franson had his minutes slashed pretty dramatically, largely on the power play, during his time with the Sabres despite the fact the team didn’t exactly boast better options. Beyond that, as Jack Eichel suggested in the quote above, the team seems to be in shambles, and without a coach and a brand new general manager, it’s difficult to get on board with its future.
There are plenty of teams around the league that could use Franson. The Flames come to mind immediately, as they badly need to improve on their blueline depth. He could slide into the role that Dennis Wideman once had, and could be a good option for the team’s power play. He said he would love to return to Toronto, where he played parts of four seasons, and the Leafs also need depth on the blueline. The Stars and Bruins badly need defencemen, and many teams, like Anaheim and Minnesota could also be in a strange situation depending on who Vegas grabs from their roster.
There will be many options for Franson, especially as a short-term option, and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest they’re all better than Buffalo.