What is Franson Really Worth?

13 Sep

Cody Franson

With Nazem Kadri signed to a 2 year “bridge deal”, focus now shifts on locking up the 26 year old blue-liner Cody Franson to a deal for the 2013/2014 season. With at least seven NHL ready defensemen set to go for Leafs‘ training camp, the cards are almost entirely in Dave Nonis‘ hand, and it’s likely only a matter of time before Franson is forced to submit to Nonis’ apparent offer of 2 years at roughly 2 million. But the question is: just how much is Franson really worth? Here at LeafHero we look to break down Franson’s last break out season and see just how good Franson has proven himself to be both defensively and offensively, along with the role that he’s carved out for himself on the Leafs’ blue-line.

Offensive Production

     When considering offensive production, there are always two questions in hand – how much did the player score and how difficult where the circumstances which he scored in. For example, it’s much easier to score 20 goals playing on Crosby’s wing, playing 20 mins a night with first power play duties than it is scoring 5 goals playing on Konopka’s wing, playing 7 mins a night, playing mostly on the penalty kill.

  Quantitatively

Goals 4 47th Among NHL Defencemen
Assists 25 4th Among NHL Defencemen
Points 29 6th Among NHL Defencemen
PP Goals 3 14th Among NHL Defencemen
PP Assists 10 11th Among NHL Defencemen
PP Points 13 11th Among NHL Defencemen

We can see quickly that Franson was easily one of the top 10 offensive defensemen in the NHL. While not scoring an overwhelming amount of goals he was an offensive catalyst and was involved in 29 of the Leafs 145 goals (20% of all Leafs’ scoring).  So looking purely quantitatively, Franson’s offensive production last year was on the same tier as Letang, Subban, Suter, Timonen and the league’s other elite puck moving defensemen.

Qualitatively

     We’ll be basing much of our analysis off how Franson tallied his 29 points using different versions of handy player usage charts, courtesy of our friends at HockeyAbstract. With this table and stats from nhl.com we can look at a few variables that effected Franson’s offensive output, namely TOI/G, PPTOI/G, QoC, Off. Zone Start %.

UsageChart

       Franson was 5th among the Leafs’ D-men for TOI/G [18:47], but was also 2nd among the Leafs’ D-men for Total TOI. Which means Franson was in the weird situation of having never played regular top 4 minutes for the Leafs, while simultaneously being one of a few defensemen who never spent regular periods of time benched throughout the season. Franson was also 2nd among Leafs’ D in PP TOI/G, being on the 1st PP unit with captain Dion Phaneuf, while playing almost negligible PK minutes, averaging below a minute per game.

   Franson also had 46% of his starts in the offensive zone, playing against a below 0 QoC (meaning, in most simple terms, he played against players below his level of competition). This makes it seem that Franson did play very sheltered minutes this season, something we’ve heard many fans and analysts claim. I would argue though, that while compared to his fellow Leafs’ blue-liners his minutes were sheltered, compared to NHL averages his minutes weren’t as easy as they seem.

All D    When put in comparison with all NHL D-men, shown in the the second player usage chart provided, we can see that Franson was given relatively low offensive zone starts compared to league averages. This is a reflection of the Leafs’ incredibly low offensive zone start % this last season. If you noticed on the table above, every Leafs’ defensemen spent more starts in their own zone than in the oppositions.  What doesn’t change though when compared to the rest of the league is Franson’s low QoC. Meaning Franson likely played most of his shifts against other team’s 3rd or 4th lines, but was starting those shifts mostly in his own zone. [Side note: shout out to our captain Dion Phaneuf, who played the 3rd most difficult minutes in the entire NHL this last season according to the table provided. Check out our article on Phaneuf for Norris for more information on Phaneuf’s impressive 12/13 season.]

 Qualitative Summary

ES Role 3rd Pairing Defencemen
PP Role 1st Pairing Defencemen
PK Role Not Significant
Competition 3rd and 4th Line Forwards
OFF Zone Starts High compared to other Leafs’ D, Low compared to other NHL D

Defensive Ability

When looking at defensive ability, it’s hard to say how effective Franson really was. He wasn’t given very difficult defensive assignments during the regular season, and he didn’t do either particularly well or particularly poorly with them. Franson’s Corsi on ice was -10, but off ice was -15, so the Leafs’ averaged 5 more shots with him on the ice. But when you take into consideration his Corsi relative to QoC, he was around even, so the Leafs’ didn’t play better or worse defence with him on or off the ice. This is likely the big question mark which is holding back the Leafs and Franson from coming to a deal.

Conclusion…

There seem to be three different types of defensemen Franson can end up becoming…

If Franson is a bit of a liability in his own zone when playing in the top 4 role regularly, then you’re looking at a bigger Marc-Andre Bergeron type of player, who even as a UFA doesn’t deserve more than 1.5 to 2.0 million a season, let alone as an RFA.

If Franson is capable in his own end, then you’re looking at more of a Dennis Wideman type of puck moving defencer, who can be a solid second pairing player, who can play an important role on the PP and will likely be earning around 4 to 5 million in his prime, and deserves the 2.0 to 2.5 million on his upcoming contract that Nonis is offering him for the next 2 years.

If Franson can be a reliable shut down player in his own end then Franson is likely able to be a serviceable first pairing defensemen where the dollar figures are going to be in the 5 to 6 million range in a few years, and filling an Alex Edler sort of role and should land a deal in the 2.5 to 3.0 mill range for this next year.

If the last playoff series with Boston is any sign of what Franson is truly capable of, then Leafs fans are in for a treat. Gardiner and Franson were easily the Leafs’ best pairing in that series, averaging over 20 mins a night, and combining for 11 of the 16 points scored by all Leafs’ defensemen. While averaging an incredible +19.4 relative Corsi, while dealing with an above 0 QoC.

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