Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports
British Columbian hockey fans get very attached to NHL players from Canada’s westernmost Province, and take particular pride in the Province’s habit of churning out the best defenseman in the country.
Vancouver hockey fans, meanwhile, have a particular attachment to former Vancouver Giants players. From Evander Kane, to Milan Lucic, to Brendan Gallagher, to Lance Bouma – every time the Vancouver Canucks miss out on landing a former Giant, the rallying cry of ‘moar giants!” can be hearding echoing from the mountain tops all along the sea-to-sky highway.
In pending unrestricted free agent Cody Franson, you have the perfect storm. The 27-year-old right handed defenseman hails from the interior and played his junior hockey with the Giants. He excels on the power play and he could be had in free agency. The Canucks have a mild cap crunch situation on their hands though, and a glut of blue-line assets that would presumably serve to make acquiring Franson prohibitive. On the other hand, he seems to be interested in coming home, for whatever that’s worth.
“Vancouver would be a very intriguing spot, 3 years with the Giants, Vancouver is a very interesting place to play,” Franson told News 1130 Sports of potentially joining the Canucks in free agency.
“Playing in my home province, parents watching would be a great honour, the #Canucks in the mix would be fun,” continued the physical, offensively oriented defender.
Franson lacks somewhat in the foot speed department, although his results by the underlying metrics have been superb over the years. Among the defensive partners with whom he’s spent at least 300 5-on-5 minutes since 2012, all four fared better with Franson than they did without him.
He’s also an elite point producer both at even-strength and on the power play. Over the past four years the former Giant ranks 29th among all NHL defenders who’ve logged at least 1000 5-on-5 minutes in points per 60 minutes, and he’s the third most efficient point producer in 5-on-4 situations among defenders who’ve logged at least 400 minutes on the power play. He’d be a near ideal fit on a Canucks team that received just 135 points in total from all defenseman last season, the fifth worst mark in the league.
Franson’s ability to generate offense on the power play is a major reason he could be a near perfect fit for the Canucks. When Yannick Weber was bumped up to the first power-play unit in midseason, it gave the Canucks a tonne of options, and opened up the backdoor play that opposing penalty killers had begun to cheat on, and take away. Weber ultimately finished the season with 11 goals, and while he’s a solid contributor, he’s not the dynamic offensive presence that Franson has consistently been.
Franson himself brought up the power-play factor in his discussion with News 1130 Sports.
“I want to play in roles that make me earn the money we are going to be asking for,” Franson said. “The power-play role is huge for me.”
Perhaps the Canucks can entice Franson to join their club by giving him the offensive defenseman version of the pitch they gave Radim Vrbata last summer. “Hey come to Vancouver and caddy the twins on the power play!”
There’s no doubt that Franson is a solid NHL contributor and could be a particularly good fit with the Canucks. We can talk about the ‘fit’ until we’re blue in the face, but the problem remains that Franson is going to be expensive, too expensive for Vancouver’s blood in all likelihood.
While the Sicamous, B.C. native’s relative youth makes him a very attractive target – the sort of unrestricted player legitimately capable of living up to a bloated July 1 contract – with the way the market for defenseman has gone in recent years, he’s going to be prohibitively expensive for a Canucks team that’s pressed up against the cap and has already invested a lot of cap space and money into their blue line.
In addressing his preliminary plans for the blue line with the Province’s Jim Jamieson this past week, Canucks general manager Jim Benning indicated that he’s unlikely to bid on any big tickets items in free agency.
“If there’s a player out there who could benefit our team and be a good fit,” Benning said. “But we won’t be in the high end of the market, the $5 million or $6 million guys.”
Rest assured: Franson is going to be a $5 or $6 million player.
In order for this to happen then, the Canucks would need to clear a contract (or two) and probably deal away a restricted defender as well (likely one of Adam Clendening, Frank Corrado, or Yannick Weber). Whether it’s a player on an expiring contract (Dan Hamhuis or Kevin Bieksa, both of whom have no-trade clauses), or a useful veteran piece (Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins or Jannik Hansen perhaps?), several dominoes will have to fall before the Canucks can consider themselves a credible suitor for Franson.
Which begs the question: is it worthwhile to perform major roster surgery for a player like Franson? He’d make Vancouver’s blue line more potent offensively, and he’s absolutely a useful two-way piece. While Franson doesn’t have the foot speed that Vancouver needs and is apparently looking for, in all other respects, he’d be a major upgrade over everything the Canucks have on the right side of their defense corps aside from perhaps Chris Tanev.