Cody Franson was arguably one of the larger names acquired by the Leafs during the offseason. Unfortunately, his hype has since been overshadowed by the likes of Matthew Lombardi and Jake Gardiner.
Lombardi came over with Franson from Nashville in exchange for essentially nothing and was seen as a salary dump on Toronto. However, he has since excelled and found himself playing months earlier than projected. Not only that, Lombardi scored the first goal of the Leafs' regular season.
Jake Gardiner hit camp as the obvious underdog to make a blue line already riddled with depth. While Franson, on the other hand, seemed to be a shoe in to start on opening night. However, much to his obvious displeasure, it was announced that Franson would be the odd man out against Montreal and sat again against Ottawa last night.
Franson—a third-round pick in 2005—put up 50 points in 141 games over his last two seasons with the Predators. The BC native also managed to collect six points in 12 playoff games with the Predators last season.
Although there is nothing particularly impressive about these numbers, people forget that Franson is only 24 years old and has a lot of time to grow; he isn't some has-been defenseman putting up mediocre numbers in his early thirties, or even his late twenties for that matter.
Although Nashville was never a cup contender last season, Franson—who again is only 24—has seen the playoffs in both of his two seasons in the NHL. This experience, however slight, could become invaluable to a young Leafs team late in the season.
Another positive aspect of Franson's game is his size: Standing six-foot-five, Franson would be the Leafs' tallest defenseman; putting him two inches above powerhouse captain Dion Phaneuf and one inch above Mike Komisarek—the man deemed to be his greatest competition. Barring the fact he's not particularly heavy, there is no doubt that Franson would be an intimidating player to skate against.
With all of these positive aspects to his game, why does Franson still find himself as the Leafs' seventh defenseman? Carl Gunnarsson has surprised many thus far by holding his own alongside captain Dion Phaneuf: In two games, Gunnarsson has an assist, two shots on goal and is currently a plus-2. He also made a key shot block late in the game to preserve the Leafs' fragile lead against a fired up Senators team.
Komisarek, on the other hand, has played a slightly less consistent game on paper thus far. In his first two games, the assistant captain has mustered zero points, zero shots and is currently at minus-1. These stats should make him the obvious choice to be sent down, however, one cannot overlook the fact that Komisarek has been playing with rookie Jake Gardiner, who didn't look very comfortable against Montreal and only started to get his legs moving late against Ottawa.
Komisarek has the potential to be a skilled hockey player, and he comes into this season 20 pounds lighter with something to prove. It's too early to tell whether this will be a turnaround year for Komisarek, but if he plays to his full potential, Franson may have a tough time trying to take his place.
I personally feel it's a waste to have so much talent just waiting in the wings. This week-long break will see the Leafs addressing some key issues in their play before meeting with the Flames next Saturday. Perhaps Franson will find himself penciled in if coach Ron Wilson sees him to be a better fit than Gunnarsson or Komisarek. One thing is for sure, though: Until a trade lightens the load on the blue line, it will be a constant battle for that final spot.