Leafs rebuild starts with Franson trade

After an atrocious January slump caused irreparable damage to the Leafs’ season, the move to reconstruct the roster was imminent.

On Sunday, the moving trucks pulled up to Air Canada Centre. As highly anticipated, defenceman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli were dealt out of Toronto. Both men, who are pending unrestricted free agents, were shipped to Nashville for prospect Brendan Leipsic, veteran Olli Jokinen, and the Predators’ first-round pick in the 2015 NHl Entry Draft.

“Our goal was to get as high a pick as possible,” Leafs general manager David Nonis said via conference call. Nonis added that while neither player was ‘unreasonable’ in terms of contract demands, a re-signing wasn’t close in either case.

In particular Franson, who had already underwent a pair of negotiations during his Leafs tenure, avoiding arbitration this past summer, will command a significant raise on his $3.3 million salary. By being a right-handed shot from the blue line, the 27-year-old possesses a coveted commodity.

It was incumbent upon Nonis to maximize his return and avoid losing one or both players without any compensation.

During Franson’s time in Toronto that lasted nearly four seasons, fans got to see a rearguard who was both offensively productive, yet error-prone. An effective power play presence with a booming shot, Franson co-led the entire Leafs team with 26 assists at the time of Sunday’s trade. His 32 points, compiled in 55 games this year, brings his total to just one under his mark from all of last season, collected in 79 outings.

Yet for every time you saw Franson use his long reach to break up an odd-man rush, you saw twice as many bad pinches, poor reads, and turnovers. Earlier this season, analytics experts had concluded that he is an ‘elite’ defenceman in his league. While Franson has made less miscues than he did during last year’s campaign, perhaps the calculations that label him as either a Norris Trophy candidate or potential All-Star need to be revisited.

Like Franson, Santorelli enters his second tour of duty in Nashville. The hard-working forward had given the Leafs some complementary scoring in a third-line role, chipping in with 11 goals in 59 games. With more than 300 NHL games to his credit, Santorelli will see his first-ever career playoff action playing on a Cup-contender in the Music City.

From the Leafs perspective, the team earns a first-round draft pick that, while is almost certain to be in the bottom-third of the 30-team order, is a definite asset in landing a potential young prospect. The more important aspect for the club with regards to the draft is whether they will stay within striking distance of possibly winning the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

In Leipsic, Toronto lands the fourth-leading scorer among AHL rookies this year. The 20-year-old Winnipeg native has registered 35 points in 47 games thus far with Milwaukee, and will be slated for immediate duty with the Marlies. “He is a tenacious young man, hard on the puck, and a very competitive guy,” Nonis said.

Jokinen will be on the market for any prospective buyers, possibly to playoff teams looking for an extra push, Nonis added.

Overall the Leafs are off to a good start with their rebuild. It is, however, just a start.

The process will be years in the making.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @Rob_DelMundo

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