Cody Franson the ideal target at the deadline – if the Flames can make it work

The Calgary Flames are aware they have a problem on defence.

Considering how Dennis Wideman is regularly playing over 20 minutes a game, you’d hope that would be the case. And, at least according to a drive-by mention on Sportsnet, they absolutely are looking to upgrade their top four. 

The Flames only have three defencemen – Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton – signed beyond this season, so they’re going to have to do something at the position no matter what. Complicating things, however, is the expansion draft; there’s a pretty decent chance the Flames won’t even be able to protect their new asset, lest they want to risk giving up, say, Michael Frolik.

Which is probably not going to happen.

That said, the Flames have both a short- and long-term need for a defensive upgrade. They’re a playoff bubble team; they’re not good enough to give up assets for a rental at this point in time. Whoever they target should be able to play for years down the line, and we should hope he’s on the team next season, too.

Sorting through the UFAs

Which players tend to be sold off at the deadline? Players approaching free agency teams don’t think they’ll be able to re-sign, or at least ones it wouldn’t make sense for them to. 

Going into the next season without a contract means that’s one less player the Flames would have to focus on protecting, and hopefully by acquiring him they’d have the inside track on signing him once the expansion draft is over.

Kris Versteeg is still without a contract for next season, after all; he’s a player Calgary doesn’t have to worry about protecting.

So let’s look at free agent defencemen under 30 years of age who regularly play 20 minutes a game (or close to). They are:

  • Dmitry Kulikov (26, Buffalo)
  • Kris Russell (29, Edmonton)
  • Michael Stone (26, Arizona)
  • Karl Alzner (28, Washington)
  • Kevin Shattenkirk (28, St. Louis)
  • Michael Del Zotto (26, Philadelphia)
  • Cody Franson (29, Buffalo)
  • Brendan Smith (28, Detroit)

That’s about it. Let’s cross Russell off the list right now because we’ve been there, done that. Let’s also take Alzner off of the list, as Washington is one of the best teams in the NHL this season and likely won’t be selling.

The remaining defenders play on teams ranging from very much out of the playoffs (Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit) to on the bubble (Philadelpiha, St. Louis) – all teams that should at the very least be considering selling.

Via Corsica, here’s how each of the defenders are used. The X-axis is relative zone starts, the Y-axis is quality of competition based on the opponent’s ice time, and the bubbles’ colours are relative corsi. We’re correcting for some players being on bad teams.

ufa dmen

At a glance, Franson looks like the ideal target. Not only does he have the best relative corsi, but he also isn’t sheltered in the way Shattenkirk and Smith are.

Further to that end, while Shattenkirk does lead this pack with 37 points, Franson is second with 16. He isn’t as sheltered as Shattenkirk is; he doesn’t play for a team in direct competition with the Flames for a playoff spot; and he’s not that big a name, so chances are he won’t be as expensive to acquire.

Of course, we here at FlamesNation have had our eyes on Franson for a couple of years now, since about the last time he was a free agent. His performance in Buffalo the past two seasons hasn’t given us any reason to change our minds. He’s a bit older – he’ll be 30 in August – but he’s the only particularly attractive target. 

Franson is also pretty big – 6’5, 234 lbs. – and a right shot, so if Glen Gulutzan wants to remain militant on defensive handedness, Brodie can finally have a good partner. Plus with his season-long cap hit of $3.325 million – a number that’ll be much lower come deadline day – the Flames won’t have any problems fitting him into their budget, even with their current constrictions.

What about getting (and keeping) him?

Of course, this is all assuming Buffalo actually wants to sell him. Let’s just operate on the assumption that they do, in which case, well, they aren’t going to give him up for free.

So what would Franson cost? Let’s keep in mind the Flames don’t exactly have that many assets to part with themselves; the Sabres aren’t getting, say, Sam Bennett.

What Calgary does have is picks. You probably aren’t giving up a first rounder for Franson – at least, I would very much hope not – but perhaps a second or a third (which was the going rate for guys like Eric Gelinas or Justin Schultz last year), or a decent prospect (not Tyler Wotherspoon). The fit might be a little difficult to find, but if noted guy who’s good at trades Brad Treliving can do it, it should be worth it.

But then there’s the Vegas complication. He’d be a pretty good target for the Golden Knights to pick up, and then the Flames would have just spent an asset on a rental player when they’re nowhere close to actually contending. It would be a waste.

How do you get around that? Probably by dangling more assets Vegas’ way to keep them from taking him. It’d be kind of like trading for him twice.

Let’s assume the Flames find a way to make sure they’ll keep Franson. Then, he needs a new contract. One could be wary about giving a new deal to a soon-to-be 30-year-old, but Franson has not only consistently been a positive corsi rel player this decade, he’s also been relatively consistent in points production (even though that’s dropped off a bit in his years with the Sabres). There isn’t much indication he’s about to drop off of a cliff; if anything, a relatively short-term deal – say another two-year deal – shouldn’t carry too much risk with him. He also isn’t too likely to get much of a raise over his current cap hit, so he’d be very affordable.

And then the Flames have some breathing room for whenever they’re ready to trust Brett Kulak already, or even Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington.

Is it worth it?

The Flames are on the playoff bubble right now, even after a horrid start and with Wideman averaging 20 minutes a game.

Knock Wideman down the rotation, have a real, legitimate top four to close out the season, and what do you think the chances are the Flames make the playoffs this year?

And then you’ve got a real top four to enter next season, with no need to make another Troy Brouwer-esque signing, and you’ve given time to your current bluechip prospects.

If the Flames really are keen on improving their defence before the expansion draft, then there really aren’t any better targets for them than Franson. After that, it all comes down to a matter of Treliving finding a way to swing it – both for the short and long term.

  • Longshot1977

    For what it’s worth, I think making a play at Franson is smart. Having a top 4 of Gio, Hamilton, Brodie, and Franson would allow heavy minutes for both top pairings while allowing development of the young defensive corps that the Flames have coming up, including Kulak, Kylington, and Andersen. Starting next season with Kulak and Kylington as the 3rd pair might even be an interesting option, given that they can be deployed in selective circumstances.

    I’m not sure that the technical aspects of getting and then keeping Franson are all that realistic. Here’s hoping BT can pull off some wizardry.

  • Deef

    Won’t somebody please think of the cap ceiling!?

    Flames = Cap Strapped

    No room, no Franson – Unless we add some expensive garbage to the deal, which means we would also have to add more assets. Not worth it at the tail end of a rebuild, IMO.

    • They also have cap relief from Ladislav Smid for this season along with the diminished cost at the deadline with all players moved.

      You’re right, the team could move someone like a Lance Bouma or someone who carries cap over to the next season. With Bennett’s progress this season being meh it’s a huge benefit to next season’s cap situation with the volume of money coming off the books.

  • Stan

    Wouldn’t it be possible to trade for Franson and then wait to resign him after the expansion draft so that we don’t have to protect him? Would a “handshake deal” such as this be allowed?

    • BobB

      Vegas can talk to any unrestricted free agent from what I believe is the 17th to the 20th of July? prior to UFA contracts expiring.

      If they talk and come to terms with Franson he is signed and becomes Vegas’ pick from the Flames.

      If they don’t come to terms, then it’s normal process and the Flames can sign him as per usual and Vegas chooses a different player to pick in the expansion draft from Calgary.

      In short, Vegas gets a extra 3 day early window with UFA’s that all the other teams do not have.

  • Brodano12

    He’d be a good target as a UFA after the expansion draft is over, but I’d be wary of trading for him at the deadline for a few reasons:

    A. We aren’t a contender and shouldn’t waste any picks on rentals until we are in our cup window,

    B. Franson will likely cost a 2nd round pick, given how much Polak and Russell went for last year and the relative scarce RHD market this year. A 2nd rounder, plus a mid round pick for Vegas not to take him is too much for him.

    C. We need to test Kulak in the top 4. In his time on the bottom pairing, he’s fared really well. However, due to Wideman blocking him, we have no idea if he has top 4 potential. Taking the time between now and the end of the season to find that out (assuming BT is able to pull off a miracle and trade Wideman) is important because there’s no point in signing a top 4 UFA dman if we have a prospect who can handle that role already – then that money (and the trading assets) can be spent on a top line RW. On the other hand, if we learn that he is not top 4 material, we know we definitely do need to find a #4.

    Keep in mind that Kylington and Andersson will be likely ready for the NHL in 1-2 years, and Kulak and Wotherspoon both are still solid prospects. If this team is playing the long game, then we need to be prudent with our picks and UFA decisions.

    • Kevin R

      Yup & if I recall, a 28 year old Franson waited & waited & waited for a contract & wasn’t signed until Sept. Haven’t seen him do all-star stuff with Buffalo for the last 2 years, why would we worry about expansion draft with him or giving up assets for Vegas to not pick him? We are close enough to the playoffs that if Buffalo are willing to give him to us for a 2nd round pick or a B prospect & a 4th rounder, fine. Move Wideman down or press box him or by some miracle trade him for a 7th rounder & retain 1/2 the salary & play Franson with Brodie for the rest of the year. Cut him loose or try to resign him come July if he works out ok.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Honestly I think the bigger question for the Flames is the “Much ado about Brian Elliott”. The Flames paid a 2nd round pick (Jordan Kyrou) in 2016 and if he re-signs after this year add on a 2018 conditional third-round pick. Has Elliott played well enough to warrant the Flames Re-sighing him? And if so? What $$$/ Term are we talking about? as well as it will cost the Flames Their 2018 3rd round pick.
    What is Elliott’s Value right now? Could he play better next year after being settled in for a year ? How much could he Elliott’s game improve with 2/3 new D-man in the line up next year (If Engelland/Wideman/Jokipakka are all gone?) (Possibly Add Kulak/Wotherspoon /??? or what about “if anyone remembers” ~> Nakladal, Jakub could he come back and replace Engelland ? Or has that ship sailed?)…
    What could the Flames Flip Elliott for? (and save their 3rd round pick as well). Who is Looking for a Good Temp Back Up Right Now? Rumors Say Boston, St. Louis, Edmonton… So the question remains, What should the Flames Do About Brian Elliott?

    • Stu Cazz

      Definitely trade Elliott. Teams are desperate for veteran backup goalie and given his performance in last years playoffs he will get your 2nd rounder back. Does not make sense for the Flames to resign him.He is no better than Johnson and will be an expensive backup goalie.

      Offseason priority again will be goaltending.

  • Newbietwo

    Franaon will get $4.5 to $5 million at free agency that is assured given the market and now an additional team with spots to fill so there is no way we trade for him now and manage to keep him during the golden knights Christmas Day.. what you basically have here is someone that will cost exactly as much as wideman but he’s almost as good as what he will get paid for “Franson”

    Having said that you do nothing and wait till free agency sorry folks it’s the right move

  • Pond Hockey

    The cost in picks to acquire a player and then ensure that he doesn’t get picked by Vegas is too high and won’t happen.

    It’s like paying for a player twice.

  • KiLLKiND

    Too expensive for a potential rental, we aren’t a playoff team and should be looking to sell and acquire assets not give up assets to try and barely squeak into the playoffs. Our lack of depth at RW is just as damaging as our lack of depth at RD and we can not afford to fix both, especially with expansion looming. The best thing we can do is trade off as many expiring contracts as possible and use those picks to fill in holes. We should trade for picks not just of 2017, but 2018 as well as those will be more valuable to fill in our holes next season. Treliving cannot mortgage the future for a team whose only hope is the future in which we have a real 2nd line RW and a top 4 RD.

  • Rockmorton65

    I think Franson would be an awesome deadline/pre-expansion draft pickup, provided the price is right. If the ask is a first, say thank you for your time and move on. If Buffalo would accept, say, a Bouma/Poirier package (I have absolutely no idea what the Sabres needs are), the Flames could be laughing. I see it like this.

    Flames get permission to speak to Franson’s agent. Find out what he’s looking for in F/A.

    Trade for Franson

    Give him the remainder of the season to see if he develops any chemistry with TJ. If he does, great. Start the re-signing process. If not, hope Vegas takes him in the expansion draft. Worst case scenario, he walks and we get out from under Bouma’s contract. More money freed up.

    Have an extention in place before the expansion draft. Once Vegas has selected their Calgary pick, sign him to a 3-5 year extention.

    And, voila! The Flames have their top 4 set for the next half decade.

    You see, I think there’s a loophole with UFA’s in the expansion draft that can be used here. If Vegas signs a team’s UFA, it counts as their pick, sure, but a UFA can’t be “picked” by Vegas. All a team has to do is find out if a player is interested in signing with Vegas or not. If they’re not interested, then they are essentially protected.

    • freethe flames

      If you are right about the loophole and I think you are; then there could be some interesting deals to be made. The question is what is the cost of acquiring someone like Franson? As a bubble team; a guy like Franson could help us win 2/3 more games than having Wideman in the lineup and that might be enough to make the playoffs and being in the playoffs is more valuable to this organization than the 10-14th pick in a weak draft. Depending o the price maybe you can bring in two RHD? If you lose one to expansion well you have the other.

  • Dale Denton

    How about looking at Brandon Davidson? I know it’s Edmonton but why not Elliot for him? Oilers get their goalie, we get a dman to try out and sign after the expansion draft? Why not flip that 3 round pick to vegas to not pick him….?

  • everton fc

    On the FAN this morning, the Isles broadcaster said they are looking for offence, and may move a d-man to get what they need. He mentioned Ryan Pulock…

  • Armchair genius

    Hmmmmm,you not write that St. Louis is on the bubble so should consider selling??? I’m fairly certain Calgary is right along side them! So this whole article is redundant.