While Sens Army sits and sympathizes with Leafs Nation (yeah right!) over the state of their restricted free agent status and the Blue Team’s I ability to get two important players signed, I think the attention is on the wrong Maple Leafs.
While Nazem Kadri had a very good breakout season in 2013, he largely did that on the back of linemate Joffrey Lupul. Not to diminsh what Kadri did, which was break out big time, but probably more vital to the Leafs all around game and the way Randy Carlyle wants to play is Cody Franson.
Franson was arguably the Leafs’ best all-around defenseman and essentially made Dion Phaneuf relatively obsolete going forward to the point where he could be traded or simply allowed to walk at the end of this season unless he takes a big pay cut. Franson has developed into a player that Toronto can’t survive without, and quite frankly while Kadri’s contract had dominated the headlines, he is not irreplaceable from within.
If the season were to start without getting Franson’s name on a contract, that would put a ton of pressure on both Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly to step up and be full time, impact NHLers this season. The Leafs have options up front to if not replace, at least reduce the impact of, a lengthy impasse with Kadri (Joe Colborne for example). I don’t think they have the same latitude with Franson.
With under $5M in cap space and two players who will be looking to cash in and eat up most of that space, the Leafs are stuck. Throw in Mason Raymond who may or may not be being brought in as a play to show Kadri they can move on without him, and the situation gets a lot more interesting.
Anything beyond a handshake and wink agreement to “make up for it later” will likely result in one or the other (or both) sitting out for a long while. Maybe until the pro-rated amount gets down to a point where both can sign and fit under the cap, sometime around Christmas. By then it might be too late for the Leafs, as that is a long time to play without 2 such important pieces of the team. Kind of like what the Senators did last season, and it would be interesting to see if the Leafs could be as successful as Ottawa without two such key pieces.
So, Leafs Nation, don’t expect any sympathy from Sens Army, what with your almost $60M payroll. But if it was me, I would be doing what I could to get Franson on the ice, and make Kadri take a bridge deal a la P.K. Subban.