Morning Mashup: Franson poised to take on bigger role

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Cody Franson has been a lot of things to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He’s seen more of the pressbox than the entire MLHS writing staff combined.  He’s been top 10 in defensemen scoring.  He’s twice held out on contract demands, only to sign below market value.  But last season saw him change from bench warmer to playoff warrior; and through the first four games of the 2013-14 season he’s looked ready for more.

Already in this young season, Franson’s importance to the Leafs defense hasn’t gone unnoticed.  While the sample size is small, Franson is receiving 23:53 in ice time a night compared to just 18:47 last season.  While it’s not unheard of to see players’ usage increase as they develop, a five minute jump is more than a 25% increase.  Known for defensive lapses in his checkered career, the increase in TOI is coming at both even strength and on the PK.  Coach Randy Carlyle has almost doubled Franson’s shorthanded ice time, a testament to the faith (or reliance) Carlyle has for him.

There’s also the little matter about his linemate, the solitary blue-chipper in the Leafs system, Morgan Rielly.   Ahead of the season, most wouldn’t have thought to pair the two given their offensive bent.  Yet Carlyle has entrusted the crown jewel of the Leafs organization to Franson.  The early returns don’t look bad for the triple 4 line, either.

This despite being less than two weeks clear of the protracted contract negotiations that saw Franson miss all of training camp and all but the final two preseason games.  A lot of pundits (this one included) thought that Franson would find himself in Carlyle’s bad books and back in the press box.  Yet in an olive-branch move by Carlyle (one that shakes the very foundation of his feuding coach image), Franson’s coming over the boards more often and in increasingly difficult situations.

So why the upswing in minutes? There’s a lot of factors in play.

The first – and likely most boring reason – is that the Sicamoose, BC, native is the team’s only right handed shot on the back end.  From a matchup standpoint, he provides a different look to the lineup than any of his D-corps comrades.  Carlyle is fond of certain looks on the power play and in the offensive zone, and both Franson’s skillset and handedness benefit him.  But luck and funny numbers aren’t the sole cause for Franson to see more ice time than any Leafs D outside of Dion Phaneuf.

A more controversial and disconcerting take is that whether fans like it or not, Franson might be the third best defenseman on the team de facto.  Carlyle tends to favour players who he knows can play the style he wants. Carlyle doesn’t really know what he has yet in Morgan Rielly.  He knows what he has in Ranger: not much.  He doesn’t like what he has in Jake Gardiner, at least not every game.

But Carlyle does know what Franson is capable of, and clearly feels more confident with one of him or Phaneuf on the ice in all situations (a move similar to how he used Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin in Anaheim).  And from the sound of it, Franson and Carlyle are finally on the same page and have a working dialogue.

Yet most notably, it’s clear that Franson has matured since arriving in Toronto a few years ago.  He’s only now a NHL veteran of over 250 combined regular season and playoff games, despite this being fifth season.  In Nashville and Toronto, Franson saw very small, incremental increases in his playing time (14:11, 15:10, 16:11, 18:47 from 09/10 through 12/13 seasons).

He steadily played more in 2013 as he rose above the heap of replacement-level rearguards in service to Toronto last season.  Yet it wasn’t until the postseason where Franson was truly given the minutes (24 a night) to prove he can be an all-situations defender.  Unlike a couple Leafs players who seem to have taken a step back since May 2013, Franson has pressed onwards.  He’s been challenged to do more for the club, and the message appears to have sunk in.  He hasn’t found the cash yet, but he’s finally reaping the rewards of pairing skill with dedication.

Given his recent contract tumult with the Buds brass, many expected that this would be Franson’s last in in the blue and white.  But considering his performance and the team’s reliance on him so far, he may have just become a key fixture in the top 4 for the long term.

***

Wednesday Morning Links:

If you didn’t see it last night, here’s the latest Hangout focusing on Gardiner, the goalies, and the trade speculations surrounding the Buds.

Here’s last night’s Game in 10.  It was a real stinker.  The game, not the recap I mean.

Jeff Veillette for the Leafs Nation on the dominant play of the abbreviation friendly TJ Brennan and JM Liles for the Toronto Marlies.

Here’s Hope in the Big Smoke’s take on the recent revelations about Luke Schenn’s inability to play hockey.

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents. Last nights game was a snoozer. The Leafs weren’t hitting anything and the lose of MaClememt and Kuli were noticible. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes.

  • PEIleafnation

    mcloki how long is kulemin out? 2 weeks?

  • Burtonboy

    PEIleafnation mcloki Minimum was the term Carlyle used so it might be a bit more then just 2 weeks . Hope not

  • MaxwellHowe

    Not much hitting by the Leafs last nite either.  Though watching the Avs zip around, have to admit they can’t be easy to catch.

  • phaneufoundlander

    Yeah, it was an exibition game MC… leafs took a night off for sure…..we really need Kul, Mclem, Fraser and Clarkson back…Bernier was stellar again…..second goal was garbage…….the Sarich shot was one in a million.

  • Cameron19

    We really need to get lucky have a Tomas Hertl come out of our system as quickly as he just did for the Sharks.  Please, God, enough drafting 2-way 4th liners.  I understand the importance for the long-term development of the team, but enough now. We’re good.  Let’s take some risks.

  • Cameron19

    And that’s not to take away from this article, because Franson’s increased ice-time is interesting for a variety of reasons, but fuck, do I ever find it painful watching other team’s prospects step into glorious opportunities and having easy success, while we seem to crawl along in that respect.

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki  Morning MC, yep MCL and Kulie were missed and what presumably Clarkson would bring, its only one game, on to the Next win !

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 
    I certainly don’t follow central scouting or junior players, but I was a little disappointed the Leafs didn’t go out on a limb att he draft this year.  There were a number of high risk high reward players the Leafs could have taken over Gauthier.  Now maybe he will excel, but the Leafs certainly made the safe choice.

  • Mind Bomb

    phaneufoundlander  Morning Lander, I am really Liking Bernier as well, he reminds me of Palmateer with a Little Flair to his saves. On his big Gloves save in the first, you could almost feel him going
    Take that weak shit out of here !

  • MaxwellHowe

    I say the next game Carlyle get Reimer back in net – too early to let anyone get rusty or lose confidence on the bench.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 
    With the money to burn, the Maple Leafs should have a scouting and development system second to none.  It is perplexing that so few players on the roster were Leaf prospects

  • phaneufoundlander

    nope, it was a lackluster effort….AVs’s wanted it more….and it’s time for Colton Orr to take a seat…that boy has zero skill, he looks awkward and slow..a waste of cap space and bench space…bring up Broll, at least he can stick handle and make a pass.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe I think Bernier has played the Predators more than any other team.  I haven’t actually looked that up, but I seem to recall this is the case.  This is the start he would always get in LA.

  • Burtonboy

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe He’s 8-1 against the Preds

  • Cameron19

    Burtonboy Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Yea, I doubt he has even come close to playing any other team that often.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe More likely we see Reimer against Edmonton.

  • Cameron19

    CanuckUKinToronto I don’t think Gardiner is in any kind of a funk.  He looked good last night, and looked good on Saturday night.  Gunnar looked far worse in both efforts.

  • TuckerForPunishment

    CanuckUKinToronto Looks about write. ;P

  • Burtonboy

    Cameron19 Burtonboy MaxwellHowe BTW some interesting comments re Gardiner from Dregger this morning. Seems all thsi stuff started about a month ago when 5-6 teams inquired about Franson but also asked about Gardiner . Nonis told them make me an offer but unless it includes an elite forward forget it . He’s had no offers for Grads since he made it clear what the price would be. Take it for whats its worth

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Yep, the “showcase” game :)

  • wendelsway1

    Burtonboy Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Wow…so the media making a mountain out of a molehill….who’d a thunk it?…lol

  • Cameron19

    Burtonboy Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Yea, he said the same thing on air last night.  So of course, this whole episode was just media fiction.

  • Burtonboy

    wendelsway1 Burtonboy Cameron19 MaxwellHowe He also said Carlyle is intent on getting Gards on track so all this stuff about the coach not liking him or his game is poppycock as well.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 Burtonboy MaxwellHowe 
    alrighty then

  • TMLfan_15

    So the GM signs a young player to a 2 year 6 million dollar deal, cementing him as a core player. He’s young, dynamic, had a point a game and a respectable plus/minus last season. But out coach decides that he plays 12 minutes a game with Colton Orr and Troy Bodie as his wingers! I like Carlyle, and I don’t think anyone should be handed minutes, but seriously that is a total joke.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Burtonboy Cameron19 MaxwellHowe 
    Elite forward?  Leafs need two assets.  A big time centre or shut down dman – and they need those assets on an ELC.  Good luck finding either.

  • LeafsGuru

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 Burtonboy if Randy didnt like Gardnier he wouldn’t of kept sending him on the ice.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 …and when they finally draft and develop two players on the current roster (Kadri and Reimer), some here want to trade them after a bad outing three games into the season.

  • dlb eh

    “Rielly will make the team, start off on the top pair with Phaneuf and be better than Gardiner from the start.”
    me.  more than a year ago.  predicting now.  feels good.  even if he’s sent back, i’m going to enjoy the moment haha.
    i missed the 2nd period last night, but i thought Gardiner looked to be doing the right things in the first.  you all know who i still think is the weak link back there, no sense re-hashing it.

  • LeafsGuru

    Cameron19 levio??

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    CanuckUKinToronto ingy56 Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Too much thinking, go with the hot hand.

  • MaxwellHowe

    LeafsGuru MaxwellHowe Cameron19 Burtonboy 
    Not sure why response is to me, because i haven’t said anything negative about Grdiner – his last two games were fine, no glaring errors at all.  More conservative offensively to be sure, but thats fine.

  • Cameron19

    ingy56 Cameron19 MaxwellHowe We’re not showcasing Reimer anytime soon.  People are getting a little carried away, even if it is jokingly.  Bernier has played what, just under 8 periods of hockey.  Our staple in the pre-Bernier era was to bash small-sample sizes and assume the worst.  

    Gustavsson once had 5 shutouts in under a month.

  • dlb eh

    Bernier doesn’t look unbeatable to me anymore.  one shot wiped that right out.
    solid in net but still the potential to let one in.
    Reimer starts next game, winner keeps the net?

  • LeafsGuru

    TMLfan_15 i didnt understand that either

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Cameron19 ingy56 MaxwellHowe People tend to forget past history though.

  • wendelsway1

    Burtonboy wendelsway1 Cameron19 MaxwellHowe For the love of God, all things Leafs and my sanity…..please let the same posters that come on here several times daily to trade Gardiner, read this before posting.  :)

  • Cameron19

    dlb eh I was hard on Ranger and Gunnar last night, but fuck, our forwards were useless helping them out.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 ingy56 MaxwellHowe 
    Yeah, but no one watching the Monster play would confuse him with Bernier.  One is visibly very good – the other was visibly awkward and inspired nail biting

  • LeafsGuru

    MaxwellHowe LeafsGuru Cameron19 Burtonboy  sorry was in general wasnt singleing you out

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 CanuckUKinToronto 
    Nope, I agree, he’s settling in just fine.

  • phaneufoundlander

    exactly Bomber…..Bernier is the goalie we’ve been craving since Belfour…its been a long time experimenting.

  • dlb eh

    Cameron19 
    yup.  as a former defender i always hated the “2 guys play defense” bullshit.
    int he first period, though, i felt we carried the play and COL only had a couple counter attacks that generated a few very good chances.  2nd period i missed.  got home part way throuh third where we looked desperate but it felt like we just wouldn’t get a goal by then.

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe LeafsGuru Cameron19 Burtonboy Wasn’t really replying  to you Max. It was directed at Cam but because you were in the conversation earlier with Cam when I hit reply your name shows as well

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe Burtonboy Cameron19 I’m sure he includes a center in the term forward . Could mean winger or center

  • MaxwellHowe

    dlb eh 
    He allowed 2 goals on 30+ shots.  Would have been far more shoits on the Leafs goal except he was stingy on the rebounds.  At this point, the Leafs couldn’t ask for more from Bernier.

  • LeafsGuru

    I have to say Coladrado’s defence looked pretty good last night, possibly why they passed on JML

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 ingy56 During that month, people on here wondered if he might have finally put it all together. He looked great at that time.  The problem is, people tend to apply specific memories to all situations.  A good example is Reimer and all his apparent weaknesses.  He doesn’t get beat high glove anymore than any other goalie, yet  because people expect it, we are still talking about a problem long since corrected.  Likewise, Gustavsson didn’t look erratic every game, but people came to expect it and paint him that way regardless.

  • dlb eh

    about the possession thing.  watching last night’s first period made me wonder.  we appeared to have the puck in their end a lot early in the game but no goals to show for it.  COL had a couple of quick strikes, they also did not score obviously, but had they…we would have had better possession numbers but fewer goals.
    the lines and their roles surely factor in.  skilled guys can control the puck and recover rebounds and generate chances, and pluggers can work the boards and keep pucks in deep.  skilled players can also bury a chance that comes from a turnover very quickly.
    it’s all relevant to me … more about how it feels at the time than how it reads in the paper the next day.