Cody Franson didn’t have time to think of his still unrestricted free agent status on his 28th birthday. Instead, he tried to relax at his family’s annual fish fry at their home in Sicamous, B.C. on Aug. 8.
“We get all our family friends up with people who we’re close to back home. We have them all over at the house and my dad cooks a bunch of fish until the early hours of the morning,” he said in a phone interview with Puck Daddy.
This dulled Franson’s nerves and helped him forget that he had indeed aged one year – at least numerically speaking – from the start of free agency on July 1.
Franson didn’t expect to still be without a team in August, but he was a casualty a slightly raised salary cap, which forced contending teams to either jettison assets or not lavish UFA players with generous contracts.
“The whole free agency experience went very different than we had planned. With the cap not going up and a lot of the teams that were very interested in us, they didn’t have a lot of options,” Franson said. “They were pretty tight against the cap as-was. There were some trades that were made that ended up taking away some of our suitors. I think this was a year where everything kind of changed really.”
A February trade to the Nashville Predators didn’t help his standing either.
Franson had 32 points in 55 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs before the deal. He had just four points in 23 contests with the Preds after the trade.
The 6-foot-4 blueliner found himself buried on Nashville’s depth chart, which was full of right-handed defenseman more familiar with coach Peter Laviolette’s system.
The Predators’ swoon after the deal (Nashville went 9-13-4) only worsened his stock.
“Going to Nashville last year and having things play out the way they did didn’t help my cause,” Franson said. “Going in there and playing the role I played and not playing on the power play didn’t help me. It also didn’t help that team lost in the first round of the playoffs when they were doing so well before we got there. I think that made some teams nervous.”
Still, most solid 27-year-old defensemen with Franson’s type of numbers who hit unrestricted free agency tend to do well. Generally they’re not in decline yet and because of this, teams often pay a premium.
Several liberally spending teams had to sell players rather than buy players this year. This meant some squads that normally would have jumped at a player like Franson couldn't fit him in their structure.
By the end of the summer, he was being offered one-year deals rather than longer term contracts. Franson had taken three straight one-year deals before and wasn’t ready to take another short contract – even if some were with contending teams. His previous pact with the Leafs was for $3.3 million.
“We’ve gone through some pretty grueling processes as far as contract negotiations and three one-year deals with Toronto. None of those were easy negotiations,” Franson said. “I had a pretty successful season until the trade to Nashville and I thought I put myself in a pretty good position to go in and really find a home and find a place where I could get some term and really call it home. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
As the summer dragged on and he remained without a deal, there were questions on whether his agent, Gerry Johannson, was responsible for the debacle. Franson was steadfast that Johannson did all he could to get Franson the right type of deal for this bear market.
“I’m going to trust my agent. He’s going to continue to be my agent and you know what? At the end of the day, I don’t think any other agent could have done anything differently for me,” Franson said. “We never turned down any offers. We never gave anybody hard numbers when we were asked where we were at. Everybody who spoke to us sounded like they were very much in agreement and there were a number of different factors that came into play that made it a tough year to find a suitor.”
So what now for Franson?
Sabres general manager Tim Murray sees Franson as a fit for his team as a puck mover according to The Buffalo News.
“He’s a skill defenseman, obviously a big body.”
“We know he’s not a crasher and banger and that’s not what we signed him for. But he’s got some range, he’s got a long reach. It does take some space to get by him.”
“A big thing is when you see an Evander Kane going down the left side at full speed, I’d rather he get the puck on his stick versus having to stop and take the puck off the glass with his glove,” Murray said. “Then he has to restart again and the play is dead. I think Cody is the type of guy who can really pass the puck.”
Is Franson bitter that he has to prove himself again? Two years isn’t exactly a long time. While his feet won’t totally be held to the fire like his previous three contracts, they’re going to be pretty warm.
“You have to be able to roll with the punches and stand back up and prove people wrong,” Franson said. “That’s the attitude I’m taking towards this. It was something that aggravated me. I want to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong and put my best foot forward and help this team win.”
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