Franson vs Wideman

I have been an advocate of dealing Dennis Wideman and replacing him with Cody Franson for most of the off-season. With Franson lingering into August as an unrestricted free agent, my interest in the Flames swapping him in for Wideman has doubled, given the fact his initial contract demands have likely lessened over time. There’s a chance Franson goes relatively cheap to whoever signs him now, which is good news given the fact he was arguable the best UFA defender on the market this year. 

I’ve learned that my Wideman strategy doesn’t hold universal appeal. A wade through comments sections or message boards shows a wave of support for the current Flames, as well as lot of skepticism about the value of Wideman. In this article, I’ll look at a side-by-side comparison of the two and discussion my reasoning for the hypothetical switch up. 

Peak Value

Before we get to the compare and contrast stuff, let’s first establish that Wideman’s stock is unlikely to ever get higher than it is right now. Last year, Wideman set career highs across the board: goals (15), assists (41), points (56), shots on goal (173) and shooting percentage (8.7%). Only once before has he managed 50 points in a season, and that was back in 2008-09. 

Those are great results and no doubt a big reason why most Flames fans would like to see Dennis Wideman back on the blueline. However, we should expect Dennis to take a step back for a variety of reasons:

1.) He’s at the age where performance typically starts to fall off for defenders (32)

2.) Though he has a great shot from the point, Wideman’s SH% will likely regress back towards his career average of 6.7%

3.) He got a huge boost in even strength and PP ice time thanks to the Giordano injury. With Hamilton in the fold and Gio healthy, it’s likely both will take a significant hit

4.) Wideman’s on-ice SH% (that is, the team’s shooting percentage when he was on the ice at even strength) was an incredible 10.43%. The league average is about 8% and most players see that number aggressively regress towards that average. Especially defensemen, as Travis Yost points shows here.

Taken together, everything points to Wideman being a bad bet to repeat his offensive performance from last year. Many people forget, as well, that his contract was considered something of an albatross before he experienced his renaissance in 2014-15. A step back or two and his $5.25M will start to look questionable again. 

Franson vs Wideman: Offense

That said, none of the above is a reason to replace Wideman with Franson per se. It’s just the reason why the Flames should be aggressively shopping the former on the trade market. 

Because offense is Wideman’s primary strength, it makes to compare the two by this criteria first.

First off, let’s establish that Wideman has the much better overall counting numbers over his career. Beyond the two 50+ point seasons, he has also scored 30+ points four times and 40+ points twice. That output seems to completely outclass Franson, whose career high in six seasons is 36 points. 

The truth is a little more complicated though. Defenders point totals are heavily skewed by ice time and opportunity. If we look at each guy’s even strength rate of scoring, we find they are actually quite similar:

Franson_Wideman_Off

The highlighted column shows even strength points/60 rates for each guy over the last few seasons going back to 2011-12. As you can see, it’s a pretty even draw between Franson and Wideman over the last 4 seasons, with each guy hovering around the 1.00 ESP/60 mark, give or take.

What about the power play then? It turns out, three of Franson’s PP scoring rates over the last four seasons are better than Wideman’s best year in the same sample (6.21, 5.44 and 5.38 vs 5.20). 

While Wideman’s offensive totals are definitely superior to Franson’s, it’s fair to say that has more to do with ice time and circumstance than pure ability. Franson and Wideman tend to score at similar rates at both even strength and on the PP. 

Franson vs Wideman: Driving Play

Next, we’ll look at how each guy influences shot rates and effects his teammates. This is important because it gives us clues as to how each player helps drive defense and goal differential. First, relative possession rates over the last three years period via War on Ice:

 

Franson_Wideman_corsi

The above shows each players relative possession rate for the last three seasons for each guy. On the bottom, you see offensive zone to defensive zone start ratio (the further right the bubble, the “easier” the zone start). The Y-axis is the player’s quality of competition measured by average ice time. The bubble colour represents relative possession: the deeper blue, the better. The darker red, the worse. 

As you can see, Franson is unquestionably the better play by this metric, even though Wideman has had the easier assignment in two of the last three seasons. This has actually been Franson’s calling card since he broke into the NHL: he has consistently been on of the better possession defenders on whatever team he’s been on. 

Wideman, on the other hand, has been a middling possession blueliner for most of his career, often making up for mediocre shot differentials with his scoring. The last few seasons as a Flame, though, has seen him descend into way below “worse than average” territory, especially since he and Kris Russell tend to get the lion’s share of offensive zone face-offs amongst Flames defensemen. That means, if he isn’t enjoying way above average shooting percentages, Wideman is a risk to start getting completely outscored at 5on5. 

The difference in the two players in terms of driving play and influencing teammates can be further investigated via Own the Puck’s visualizations. Here is Wideman’s impact over the last three seasons:

WidemanImpact

As you can see, Wideman tends to improve his line mates shot rates (corsi for/60, or shot attempts at the opposing net), but their shots against rates tend to go in the toilet as well (corsi against/60, or shot attempts at his own net). Last year (the deeper blue dot above), he improved his line mates corsi for by about 2.5/60. The problem is, they also saw their corsi against jump by over 6.0/60 with him. Yikes.

This weakness is captured in his HERO chart:

WidemanHero

Again, Wideman’s production is excellent and he drives offense like a first pairing guy. The problem is, he gets absolutely cratered (worst than your average 3rd pairing guy) on the other side of the puck. As a result, his overall CF% (corsi ratio) doesn’t even cross the top four threshold. 

Here’s Cody Franson’s charts in comparison:

FransonImpact

FransonHero

Much tidier. Franson doesn’t score goals as much as Wideman, but he manages assists at a greater rate and is much more proficient on the defensive end, being just south of first pairing rates by all possession measures (both for and against). 

Just to bring this all home, here is how each guy rates in terms of relative scoring chance ratio (SCF%) over the last three years:

Franson_Wideman_SCF

Franson: three straight years in the black. Wideman: three straight years in the red. Franson’s worst season (+0.43/60) is better than Wideman’s best (-0.85/60). 

Conclusion

For the TL/DR crowd – Franson and Wideman score at similar rates and they tend to promote shots for rather well, but Wideman gets shelled defensively while Franson is above average at shot suppression. 

Furthermore, Franson is 27 years old and more likely to sustain his current play levels, while Wideman is a 32 year old coming off a career best season that is unlikely to be repeated. The Flames may not get another chance to move Wideman for a meaningful return, while they also have the opportunity to sign Franson at a rate below what Wideman is making now.

Of course, we don’t know if Franson has any interest in signing in Calgary and we don’t know if Wideman would be willing to waive his NMC even if the Flames found a trade partner. That said, the evidence suggests that if replacing Wideman with Franson is possible, it’s the best bet available.

  • Craig

    I honestly just think that the Flames don’t want to trade Wideman, they viewed the pairing of Wideman and Russell in a very positive light last year when Gio went down. They were played and viewed as the number 1 pairing. I would love to swap Franson for Wideman, but I don’t think it’s in the cards for the Flames.

  • PrairieStew

    I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago. The Columbus Blue Jackets were rumored to be looking at Franson, but with less than $4m in cap space couldn’t do the deal. The Jackets, with the addition of Brandon Saad are a deep team up front, especially at left wing. Scott Hartnell is probably third on that depth chart behind Saad and Foligno. He is also signed for 4 more years at $4.75. Despite being 33, and on a team racked with injuries Hartnell scored 28 goals and 60 points last year.
    If Columbus feels they need an offensive upgrade at defense and want to increase their cap flexibility 3 and 4 years out, a Hartnell for Wideman deal makes some sense. Add in the relatively cheap Joe Colborne and it becomes more palatable.

    Calgary subtracts $6.5 and adds $4.75 bringing cap space close to $4 with 15 forwards and 6 defense, one of which is Smid. Retain salary on a Hiller trade and you are sailing!

    By adding Hartnell you get a guy who, along with Frolik can be excellent bookends for Sam Bennett on the second offensive unit, a huge upgrade over Colborne and or Raymond. This leaves Backlund in the defensive role with Bouma and Jones and plenty of 4th line options.

    Getting Wideman to agree might be the hardest thing to do, but if they stay healthy and Saad contributes, they could be a dark horse in the east.

    • PrairieStew

      I understand the hesitancy, but look at what Hartnell would bring. In the last 2 years he has scored above his career average by a fair margin. He is among the top 50 forwards scoring at even strength. He brings size, nastiness and skill together. He represents a huge upgrade for that second line. Colborne won’t ever be much more than he is, too soft for a checking role and not enough scoring to be top 6. . Hartnell would be great mentor for Ferland, protector for Bennett. He is clearly very fit, got 10 seasons 75+ games. Those last 2 years might be hard to swallow but I would posit that they won’t be any worse than looking at the next 2 of Wideman.

      A deal like that sacrifices no future assets, Colborne likely to be passed by a couple of younger guys soon.

      Plus, with Smid on the ltir that fees more to get Franson. So you are older up front but younger on D.

  • zachg

    Good article Kent. My comments you have read are definitely anti-signing-Franson. But if you could get him for like 3 years at 4.0 mill, that would be reasonable & an upgrade. But here is where I can’t get past:

    1/ If you told me you need to chose between Franson & Russell, I go Russell all day long & twice on Sunday. For some reason many feel he is only a bottom pairing guy. I truly think Russell is about to have a break through year playing with one of our top 3 guys. Hartley loves him & he gets the program.

    2/Wideman needs to be traded regardless. He would be a fantastic #5 & can easily step up in case of injuries, but you cannot afford a 5.25mill depth player in a cap league. His value is high, & there are teams definitely in the market for him. Wideman is no dummy, he can see his role will be significantly less this coming year with the addition of Hamilton. Yu give him a team where he can get 1st PP minutes & 2nd pairing duty, if asked, he would waive his NMC. Most players would in this situation.

    3/There won’t be a market for Wideman until Erhoff & Franson are signed. So we seem to be destined to start the year with Wides anyway & Im perfectly fine with that. But as the year goes on, his commodity should increase as teams have key defensemen go down. Detroit loses Green, which odds are that would be likely to happen& Wideman with a year & a half on his contract is a good emergency option. Should net you a 2nd & 3rd at least or we wait until the TDL. Either way, the chances of moving Wideman before Oct 1 are slim. If we did move him & Franson is gone, I have no problem signing Schlemko. We really do need that cap space of Wideman & replace it with a cheaper up & coming young player.

    Anyone worried about the lack of news on Gio’s extension? Is this going to be a concern not having him signed going into next season?

  • RedMan

    With Wideman’s scoring prowess, the Flames have a ridiculous embarrassment of riches on defense… but with Hamilton, Giordano and TJ all able to play the power play, there is no room for Wideman, and therefore he needs to go, just because he is redundant. Surely, as one of the leading defensive point producers and an “ok” second pairing, the Flames will find a trading partner. Sure, they may need to wait until Franson is off the market, but wideman should not be hard to move to a team looking to make it now. .

  • Slowmo

    Stop trying to move players Wideman did his job and very well why not keep wides and get frans if you are so pumped about him. Me I think we are going to be a monster on the back end with addition of Dougie and the ability of have a left and right combo on each line will make us a threat every time we play a team plus I my self would like to see what our kids can do I know we are moving forward but we are still a rebuilding team I think we should build from with in and save good bucks. Leave well enough alone for now any way

  • Slowmo

    I like how you deliberately start the article off with making everywhere aware Wideman is currently at his peak value as a large reason for trading him now yet completely fail to acknowledge Franson is also at his peak value right now and will never be worth more than at this point in his career. His value will also decline whether you want to admit it or not.

    Nice cherry pick to help support your argument

  • Slowmo

    I’ll take Wideman w/ only two years left @ $5.25M over Franson who likely wants the same cap hit over 5 years.

    The Flames cannot be extending players outside of their core on long term deals like this, it is not feasible in today’s cap era, see Boston and Chicago.

    Also, have you ever actually watched Franson play on any level of detail or are you simply crunching numbers on a spreadsheet Kent and attempting to draw a conclusion from only that? There is a reason he couldn’t even play a regular shift in Nashville and why we ‘re closing in on September and he still isn’t signed, way over hyped and nowhere near the quality Dman you’re attempting to indicate.

    Signed,

    A Leafs season ticket holder that watched him day in and day out for 3-4 years.