On Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger took time away from his summer vacation to suggest the Toronto Maple Leafs may be forced to deal defenseman Cody Franson.
Franson, 25, was one of the NHL’s better bargains last year. He led the Leafs in defenseman scoring (29 points) and tied for sixth-most in the league — only Keith Yandle, Andrei Markov, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Norris winner P.K. Subban scored more.
But Franson did it on a one-year, $1.2 million deal.
As such, he’s expected to get a significant raise — Dreger suggests Franson could net $4 million-plus annually — which could be problematic for Toronto.
Leafs GM Dave Nonis has spent aggressively this summer, shelling out $36.75 million to acquire David Clarkson and another $21 million to retain Tyler Bozak (also, nearly $10 million to keep Carl Gunnarson).
While he did get cap relief by buying out Mikhail Grabovski, Nonis doesn’t have much wiggle room for the immediate future.
Namely, the 2013-14 season.
At the time of writing, the Leafs have roughly $6 million in cap space with 20 players on the roster. The biggest x-factor is the new deal needed for Nazem Kadri, the restricted free agent forward that finished second on the team in scoring last season, with 44 points.
There’s also useful defenseman Mark Fraser, who played in 45 games last year and averaged close to 17 minutes a night. He played on a one-year, $600,000 deal last year, and will likely be in line for a small pay bump.
There’s also the question if Toronto can replace Franson internally.
Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot. He’s too young to play for the AHL Marlies and probably won’t benefit from another year with WHL Moose Jaw, where he was nearly a point-a-game player last year.
Stuart Percy, the club’s first-round pick in 2011 (25th overall), might also push to be with the Leafs. He’s only had a brief taste of AHL experience, but looked solid with the Marlies last season, scoring three points in four games.
But all those decisions are in the future, and Nonis said he has plenty of time to make them.
“It’s July,” Nonis said on Sportsnet 590 on Thursday. “I’m not surprised that [Franson, Kadri and Fraser] are not signed, and we have a lot of time before we have to start worrying about it.”