During the NHL’s most recent lockout the owners frantically searched for a viable way to reduce expenditures while avoiding hindering the leagues growth. In the end, they settled upon a reduction of the cap ceiling from around $70 million to just above $64 million. Not a substantial change, but enough to send shock-waves throughout the league. As a result of the owners tightening their purse strings, many organizations have found themselves enthralled in tough personnel decisions this summer. Here in Philadelphia it was Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere who felt the wrath of leagues new cap limit. Up in Toronto, it may be talented, young defender, Cody Franson.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, guided by GM Dave Nonis, have been one of NHL’s busiest franchises this summer. Spending money like a poet on payday, Nonis and the Leafs have found themselves in a precarious position. With just under $6 million in cap space the club still needs to re-sign restricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Mark Fraser, and Franson. Kadri, coming off a breakout campaign, figures to make atleast $3 million annually. Meanwhile, the Leafs marquee player, Phil Kessel, has just one year remaining on his contract and is looking at a huge payday.
At the start of the off-season, Nonis acquired netminder Jonathon Bernier from the LA Kings and promptly signed him to a new, two-year, $5.8 million deal. The Leafs then traded for Dave Bolland, and his $3.375 million cap hit, from the Blackhawks. And, not wanting to lose center Tyler Bozak to free agency, Toronto handed the kid a 5-year, $21 million contract. But the icing on the cake was the 7-year, $36 million albatross given to former-Devil David Clarkson. This despite Clarkson never even hitting the 50-point plateau in his 7-year career.
All of this excessive spending has left the Maple Leafs with some tough decisions. And the Leafs financial troubles may just be the Flyers gain.
The odd man out in Toronto appears to be 25-year old defender Cody Franson. Franson, standing 6’5″, would give the Flyers that right-handed shot that they’ve sorely lacked the past few seasons. He would make an already dangerous Powerplay, that much more lethal. Coming off a campaign in which he tallied 29 points in just 45 games, the four-year vet is looking for a deal in the $4 million (annually) range; too rich for the Leafs blood.
Now, of course, there are a few issues with this scenario. First, the Flyers are, themselves, currently over the $64 million threshold. But that number is somewhat misleading as Chris Pronger’s $4.9 million cap hit is still on the books. When the regular season starts, Pronger will be placed on LTIR and that money will come off.
The second concern is that the Flyers currently have eight defensemen to compete for (most likely) seven spots. However, once Andrej Meszaros, and his $4 million cap hit, are cleared medically, all signs point to GM Paul Holmgren attempting to dump the oft-injured defenseman. Braydon Coburn ($4.5mil) could also become expendable if Franson were to be acquired. But the Flyers brass have made it known that they’d like to hold onto Coburn, if at all possible.
The final issue in this scenario is the cost, in term of assets. In the current landscape of the NHL, defensemen are the premium position. Those in their mid-20’s are rarely allowed to hit the open market. And the cost to trade for a productive defender, like Franson, may be high. For reference, 27-year old Kyle Quincey, a lesser defenseman, cost the Detroit Red Wings a 1st round pick. Although that move was made at the trade deadline, where the asking price is always inflated. It’s safe to assume that Franson will cost atleast a solid prospect and a pick. Would Nick Cousins and 2nd rounder get the deal done? Maybe a 1st round pick, straight up? It’s difficult to determine what Nonis is thinking.
In the end, there are a lot of factors hindering the Flyers in a potential deal to acquire Franson. Their prospect pool isn’t thriving to begin with, so if they were to give up a prospect and a pick, Holmgren must be sure that Franson is a player that would fit in seamlessly with the current core. And then there’s the financial issue of signing the player to a new, team-friendly contract and any subsequent moves that must be made. But those negatives don’t necessarily outweigh the positives a player of Franson’s ilk would bring to the Flyers organization. With all the moving parts it’s a longshot, But it may just be the shot that can put this team over the top.