The Trade That Hasn't Helped. . .Yet
When it was announced that the Maple Leafs had swung a deal to land defenceman Cody Franson back in the summer, it seemed like not only a no-brainer, but a deal that didn't cost the Leafs anything at all. In fact, it still looks like a deal you'd make.
In exchange for taking on the $3.5 million contract of Matthew Lombardi for this year and next, the Leafs got the young, strapping Franson, a regular on the stout Nashville backline last season. Nashville received Brett Lebda, who was bought out, and Robert Slaney, now playing in the ECHL. The aim of the Preds was to move dollars, and we saw recently why that was when goalie Pekka Rinne was inked to a $49 million contract.
Those are the kinds of choices GM David Poile has to make in Nashville, and he's done very well at making them. So far, the deal with Toronto hasn't hurt the Preds, fifth in the west this season with one point less than the Leafs, who were until last week one of the hottest teams in the league.
But it hasn't help Toronto nearly as much as assistant GM David Nonis, the wheel man on this trade, believed it would. But then, it is early.
Franson will play in only his fifth game this season tonight against the Predators. He seemed like he would fit with the Leafs on the right side of the defence, with the assumption being he could beat out Mike Komisarek. Well, he hasn't, the Leafs are committed more than ever to Luke Schenn, and Dion Phaneuf gobbles up huge minutes. So the right side of the Leaf defence is spoken for.
The left side isn't in quite the same way. But what the Leafs didn't know when they swung the the deal was that Franson can't play the left side like some, but not many, right-handed shooting defencemen can. It's a weird reality that while many lefties can play the right side, few righties can play the left. In Franson's case, he couldn't make the adjustment at all, which opened up room for Jake Gardiner and has left Franson on the sidelines most of the time.
He may work his way into the lineup, or injuries might get him there. The other option is a trade, and Brian Burke showed with Kris Versteeg last season he's not afraid to acknowledge a bad fit after less than a season. The Leafs were initially focussed on getting prospects and picks for Franson if he were moved, but with goaltending suddenly a major need, that might work as well.
Lombardi, meanwhile, has been both a success story and a disappointment. He managed to get his concussion symptoms under control in time to be in the opening night lineup and he scored a shorthanded goal that night against Montreal in an inspirational effort.
Since then, he's added only one more, and is a minus-7 on the season. His speed appears not to be as explosive, and his offensive game just isn't there at all despite getting 12-15 minutes most nights. His contract, however, mandates that he gets a long, long look even though players who might be more effective in his role - Darryl Boyce - languish with the Marlies.
Again, deals take time to flush out. Even the Phil Kessel swap looks better these days as he continues to lead the league in scoring (that, of course, doesn't alter the fact the Bruins got Tyler Seguin AND won the Cup).
Right now, of course, is when it would be very helpful for this Nashville deal to start paying some dividends. With injuries up front and four losses in their past five games, improved contributions from both the ex-Preds could make a big difference.