On Feb. 15, Preds GM David Poile made a big splash ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring a pair of former faces — ex-Nashville forward Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson — from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Santorelli was a nice depth pickup, Franson was the key to the deal. The 27-year-old had six goals and 32 points in 55 games at the time of the trade and was averaging more than 21 TOI per night; upon pulling the trigger, Poile called Franson “a veteran defenseman who could play in all situations,” adding he’d “seamlessly fit into our team.”
The transition has been anything but.
In the past five games, he has been benched twice. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday, Franson didn’t take a shift in the third period, receiving a season-low 7:15 of ice time. Saturday, Franson’s last shift ended on Stars forward Colton Sceviour’s goal at 7:28 of the third period, a play in which he failed to clear the puck from in front of the crease.
Franson is averaging nearly six fewer minutes of ice time per game with the Predators than he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here’s the Sceviour goal in question:
Franson’s boxscore for the Dallas game was ugly. His 12:26 TOI was the second-lowest among d-men — only Victor Bartley, who played up front, received less — and Franson was the only Predator to finish with a minus rating (-2).
Digging beyond the traditional boxscore, Franson’s struggles are even more evident. He finished with the worst possession metrics (Corsi and Fenwick) on the team and, for a offensive-minded defenseman, his one shot attempt is startling — though to be fair, Franson’s power-play time has fallen since joining the Preds (Franson got no man advantage time at all versus Dallas, though it could be a chicken-or-egg situation… is he struggling because he’s not getting the power-play time, or is he not getting the power-play time because he’s struggling?)
At the simplest level, one can chalk this up to being a bad fit. Franson had far more opportunities on Toronto’s blueline than he does in Nashville, where the likes of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Seth Jones are firmly entrenched in the top-four.
It’s also fair to suggest that, despite Poile’s optimism about familiarity, switching teams and conferences mid-season is more difficult a task than originally thought; consider Devante Smith-Pelly in Montreal, who scored his first goal in 18 games on Sunday, nearly a full month after coming over from Western Conference powerhouse Anaheim.
But the Franson situation is a bit more complex. It could be alleged he (and Santorelli, to a certain degree) have actually disrupted team chemistry — the Preds were 38-12-6 at the time of the trade, and just 9-10-4 since. Also, whatever offensive flair Franson had as a Maple Leaf has almost entirely escaped him as a Predator, as his points-per-game average has fallen from 0.47 to 0.14.
The big question moving ahead, of course, is if Franson will be dropped from the lineup. Nashville dressed seven defensemen on Saturday and had an eighth, Anton Volchenkov, sitting as a healthy scratch, so there are options for head coach Peter Laviolette to tinker with.
There are also questions about Franson’s future as he heads to unrestricted free agency this summer. How big an impact will this slump have on his market value? Could this be the case of a player that, having seen what Toronto’s become, is just a guy that put up really good numbers for a really bad team?
The Preds are off to the postseason, so Franson will have a few more chances to try and turn things around. But given his deployment over the last few weeks, it’ll be interesting to see how big — or, small — an opportunity it’ll be.