There's no particular order trade rumors come in. Today's potential target for Detroit Red Wings trade speculation is Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson, and the number of layers involved in dealing him make this particular acquisition more complicated in terms of figuring out what a reasonable price is. Time to dive in.
Birth date: August 8, 1987 (27 years old)
Place of birth: Sicamous, BC
Shoots: Right (!!!!)
Experience: 6 seasons
Draft by Nashville in 2005 (79th overall).
The 6-foot-5, 213-pound former Nashville Predator became a member of the Maple Leafs in an offseason salary dump involving none other than everyone's favorite defenseman Brett Lebda. Franson is on a one-year contract worth $3.3 million. The Maple Leafs only reached this agreement after failing to extend him further on a longer term deal but before an arbitration hearing. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent this July.
The Pros and Cons:
Franson checks off plenty of things on the Red Wings' checklist. He shoots right. He plays defense, which is more of a need at the moment than forward or goaltender. He puts up points from the blue line, to the point where he would already be the Red Wings' leading defense scorer if he were to step into the Detroit lineup right this second; Franson currently has 32 points compared to Niklas Kronwall's 30.
He does all those things, but he'd probably be slotted into second or third pairing duties, which isn't the worst thing in the world because he'd still make the Red Wings better wherever head coach Mike Babcock sees it best. Franson was always behind the Shea Weber and Ryan Suter pair back when they manned Nashville's top pair. If you listened to our podcast from earlier this week, J.J. talked about Franson's over-penchant for jumping into the play. Whether that would change upon arrival in Detroit or be a permanent feature of Franson's game (at least for the rest of this season) is still an open question.
Detroit's most pressing need is a true top-pairing defenseman, and Franson falls a couple rungs short of that billing. Of course, that fact conspires with his contract status to potentially reduce the price in a trade. What exactly that price is remains unclear anyway because of Toronto suddenly being OK with a full "scorched earth" rebuild. Does Toronto possibly even hang onto Franson as one of those inevitable veterans a rebuilding team needs to fill holes on the roster until the kids are ready for those spots?
Nothing is really clear. Unless the Maple Leafs really are interested in trading away Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk, Franson is probably their most valuable trade chip. Even if he doesn't have a contract extension yet, Toronto will probably hold onto Franson until the last possible moment to trade him to maximize any possible return. And it's very likely that whoever acquires the defenseman is going to include some conditional asset, whether that's an upgraded draft pick or another draft pick entirely, based on whether they can extend him.
If Toronto's going for the full rebuild, then they're definitely looking for futures: prospects and draft picks. Would a second round pick be enough to acquire him straight up? Maybe. Are the Maple Leafs going to be looking for multiple pieces to maximize a return? Of course. And some team is inevitably going to offer such a package. So we're probably at the point where a return looks like Xavier Ouellet or Alexey Marchenko and a fourth-round pick, maybe upgraded to a second if Franson re-signs. Is that too much for a rental, especially given how NHL-ready Ouellet and Marchenko have looked so far? From the Detroit perspective, probably, but from the Toronto perspective, that's a piece they need if they're going to give away an NHL defenseman.
Franson is a good option if Detroit is willing to pull the trigger on a deal and bite the bullet on giving up one really good future piece. There shouldn't be a large "division premium" hurdle, if there's any at all. Where the line is between too many future pieces or what kind of quality they might have — what's the difference between a package of Ryan Sproul with Zach Nastasiuk vs. Ouellet and a draft pick? — is a question the Red Wings will have to answer before sending away pieces for Franson.