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How Does Cody Franson Fit into Predators’ Plans?

Franson

Garth Snow and the New York Islanders did a fantastic job locking down Nick Leddy with a seven-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit. The going rate for second pairing defenders is $5 million-plus, so inking a No. 2/3 player for $5.5 million is a bit of a steal—and it’ll only look better as the salary cap goes up over the next few years.

Leddy might not even be the person that is most excited about the new $38.5 million deal though. That distinction likely goes to Cody Franson of the Nashville Predators. The defenseman forced his way out of Toronto by turning down a deal reportedly worth an average of $4.6 million per season.

It might have looked a bit bullish for the 27-year-old at the time, but suddenly Franson has a new comparable to negotiate off of. If Leddy and his 0.37 points per game are worth $5.5, then Franson and his 0.44 points on average are worth at least that much.

Sometimes contract negotiations and how they work can get lost in the shuffle on Twitter, but agents will typically roll out a handful of contracts for players in comparable positions (depth chart wise) and go over their cap hits while looking for a middle ground. That’s why Ryan Johansen tried to get Jonathan Toews money from the Columbus Blue Jackets this past summer. As the team’s No. 1 center, he was entitled top top-line cash.

At least that was the angle Kurt Overhardt reportedly took.

Now when Franson negotiates with the Predators on an extension or as an unrestricted free agent this summer, he won’t be out of line by asking for $6 million-plus. Early in February, Lyle Richardson of The Hockey News wrote that the defenseman could possibly seek $5 million on average across six or more seasons. Given this recent deal for Leddy, that suddenly seems low.

Nick Leddy is a good comparable for Cody Franson to go off of.

Maybe Franson understands that Nashville’s Stanley Cup window is just starting to open. Shea Weber is the cornerstone on the blue line, and there are a number of high-end players that are just coming into their own on the roster. General Manager David Poile could approach the talks this way in an attempt to convince Franson to sign on for a bit less than market value.

When healthy, the Predators have one of the better defensive groups in the league. Weber is the go-to guy and Roman Josi has evolved into one of the NHL’s most underappreciated players over his last 100 games or so.

Ryan Ellis is only 24 and is a solid top-six defenseman and Seth Jones has the makings of a special player. Perhaps being a part of a group like this is important to Franson, and it’s entirely possible that he signs a deal similar to Leddy’s.

Maybe he decides to get paid while he has the chance to do so though. No one blamed Matt Niskanen for cashing in on his breakout season by signing a seven-year, $40.25 million contract with the Washington Capitals.

Coincidentally, Niskanen was 27 during his last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he averaged 0.33 points per game. There’s more to playing on the blue line than just scoring, but it’s not too difficult to see the parallels between Franson and Niskanen.

 

27-Year-Old Season Prior to Becoming UFA
Franson (projected) Niskanen
Goals 8 10
Assists 37 36
Avg. Points 0.58 0.57

 

Niskanen’s $5.75 million cap hit is higher than the one Leddy received, and based on his numbers, Franson wouldn’t be crazy to ask for a contract north of that. The Predators may not be able to give him that kind of cash either. Poile has a handful of important players that he needs to re-sign in the coming months.

Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen have been important veterans for Nashville and need new deals. Colin Wilson and Craig Smith are also due contracts and are set to become RFAs. Both Wilson and Smith currently carry $2 million cap hits and will be in line for at least marginal raises.

Calle Jarnkrok’s contract is also up at season’s end.

How Poile plays this offseason is of particular importance, simply because the core of this team has performed so exceptionally in 2014-15. It’s been the best season in franchise history, and maintaining momentum will be important no matter how the playoffs go.

Is Franson a long-term fixture in Music City? Do the Predators have the cap flexibility needed to retain his services while leaving room for the likes of Filip Forsberg and Jones? It’s important to remember that Nashville is already saddled with two large contracts—Weber’s and Pekka Rinne.

Keeping Franson at market value would be another large cap hit, and any regression from him would be detrimental to the team’s ability to keep homegrown players like Forsberg.

Both player and team are likely focused on the postseason, but Franson is playing for big bucks right now. If he maintains his pace through the end of this season and performs well in the playoffs, he could be a very wealthy man in the near future.

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