Is It Time For Johan Franzen To Hang Up His Skates For Good?

Head injuries are a serious matter. The Detroit Red Wings and Johan Franzen have to make a possible life-changing decision this offseason.

This has been a long time coming. It's been in the back of my mind for what seems to be ages. The highly-heralded Swedish goal-scoring winger Johan Franzen has certainly reached a crossroads in his career. One path leads him to keep it going, and try to contribute to this team to the best of his abilities, and the other path leads him away from the game of hockey for good. If you ask me, this is should be an easy decision, not only for a hockey player, but a husband, and a loving father like Franzen.

I'm not writing this article for the team's benefit, I am writing it for the player, and the family's benefit. Earlier this season, Bill Roose reported just how many concussions Johan Franzen has sustained in his career:

Still symptomatic from his latest concussion, Johan Franzen skated on his own twice this week, including Friday prior to the Red Wings’ optional morning skate, at Joe Louis Arena.

Franzen is still experiencing migraines since he absorbed a blind-side hit to the head by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer on Jan. 6. The Wings' power forward is being treated by Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, an Ann Arbor-based neurologist and consultant for the NHL Players’ Association.

It is estimated that Franzen has had at least 10 concussions throughout his hockey-playing career. Last season, a concussion forced him to miss 22 regular-season games, as well as withdraw from representing Sweden in the Sochi Olympics.

Franzen, who has missed the past 22 games with this latest head injury, remains on injured reserve and is not close to returning to the Wings' lineup, though he continues to work toward a comeback.

That's not an error, that's not a joke. At the age of 35, Johan Franzen has been concussed over 10 times. While a concussion at it's core isn't exactly life-threatening, sustaining multiple cases of these can obviously be a huge deal. Let's not forget, a concussion is a form of a TBI, or a traumatic brain injury. I've never went through concussion-like symptoms myself, but to put things into perspective, Helene St James had written an article on how these injuries were affecting his everyday life:

But 4-year-old Eddie Bo and nearly 2-year-old Oliver Gunnar? Franzen couldn't explain to them why he spent afternoons in bed, why he went from doing something every day to doing nothing, why he couldn't pick them up and toss them in the air and catch them.

"To see the disappointment in their eyes when (they ask), 'Dad, why can't you play with us?' It breaks your heart," Franzen said Wednesday. "It's a lot better now. Now I can do all that stuff, and it feels really good."

First off, I'm ecstatic that he's feeling better and can now spend time with his children (Eddie Bo, and Oliver Gunnar.) Reading into the article more, there are some other quotes worth noting:

"This time was scary," he said. "For two months, not being able to pick up your kids, or play with your kids, for more than 2 minutes — it makes you think a little bit. I was in a really dark place, maybe not the first month because then you still think it's going to get better, but then when it doesn't get better, you kind of start wondering."

Franzen states that he usually gets a "setback" during the afternoon or at nighttime. He spent two months bedridden, fighting off headaches, and hoping that the next one would not be as worst as the last. As a fan, this breaks my heart knowing that there was a point where he couldn't be live a normal everyday life.

I think we're all guilty of being hard on Johan Franzen. He's a streaky player when he's 100%, his goal-scoring power forward style of play has helped this team make tremendous strides, especially in their Stanley Cup winning season in 2007-2008. No doubt about it, I have a soft spot for him, like most veteran players. I would love to see Johan Franzen make a triumphant comeback and give Detroit a few more good years.. But is that a smart move? Do we want to risk this man's life over the well-being of a sports organization?

There's no doubt in my mind that Franzen is going to try and return to the game, and of course, the team is going to welcome him with open arms. I don't think it's a smart idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens. The fact of the matter is that this player (Franzen) has sustained so many concussions that it has reached double-digits. He spent part of his year unable to get out of bed, or pick up his children. At some point, you need to realize that some things are more leading than hockey. There are three options.. Return, retire, or LTIR (much like what the Flyers did for Chris Pronger.)

The Effect of Retiring Early, and Facing Cap Hit Recapture.

If the Red Wings are to push Johan Franzen to early retirement, this year makes most sense. When you factor in cap hit recapture inflation, the 2015 offseason gives the most cap-friendly numbers.

Retirement Year Total Recapture Pool 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
2015 $7,272,730 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546
2016 $8,318,185 $2,079,546 $2,079,546 $2,079,546 $2,079,546
2017 $7,863,640 $2,621,213 $2,621,213 $2,621,213
2018 $5,909,095 $2,954,548 $2,954,548
2019 $2,954,550 $2,954,550

As you can see, the numbers are pretty self-explanatory. If he were to retire this year, it would be the most cap-friendly way to go about it. As his contract progresses, things get a bit more expensive, granted the terms would be shorter.

Going the "Chris Pronger" route.

So let's say Detroit elects to do to Franzen what the Flyers did to Chris Pronger, which is basically putting him on LTIR for the rest of his contract. Seems like a pretty smart way to go. You get complete cap-relief during the season from Franzen's $3.95 million terms. There is a downside to this, however. Let's say Detroit has Franzen on LTIR during the 2015-2016 season, keep in mind that he DOES count against the 50 contract limit. As long as he's technically on the team, he always will. During the 2016 offseason, his cap hit will go back on the books. NHL teams are not allowed to exceed the 10% offseason cap cushion. So if the team is planning on adding any bigger contracts, this really complicates things. If they're able to shed Stephen Weiss' contract, that would make things a bit easier, but the only realistic trade rumored that could make this happen would result in adding a contract like Dion Phaneuf's. I'm just not sure that's a great option for Detroit given where they are right now. Although, the reality of this tactic might not hold water going forward. After Chris Pronger was hired by the Department of Player Safety while STILL technically on Philadelphia's payroll, I just don't buy that this will be tolerated going forward. I believe this route of cap-management is (or will be) officially sanctioned by the league as a means to protect players with life-altering brain injuries.

So we're stuck in a limbo here. We could try to see if the Mule can make a return, but is it really worth it for him after sustaining so many head injuries? The answer, to me, is no. This man is a husband, and a father. Does Franzen want to go forward in life with the possibilities of spending months without getting out of bed or interacting with his beloved children?

Some things are bigger than hockey. Family is always number one. Listen to Mike Babcock when he talks, whenever asked about his contract status, or whether he is staying in Detroit or not, more times than not the first thing out of his mouth is family-related. Johan, I love you, and I love what you've done for this team over the years... But it's time to realize that it might not be worth it anymore. Not to mention the longterm effects this might have after his contract is expired. The player may leave the game, but sometimes the game won't leave the player. The Red Wings, and Johan Franzen need to be extremely careful with this going forward.