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Most of the talk surrounding this summer’s free agent frenzy have surrounded Kevin Shattenkirk (and rightfully so). There isn’t a player of his caliber in the rest of the market. The Devils have been mentioned for quite some time and when everything comes to a head, they’re likely to be one of the finalists in the Kevin Shattenkirk sweepstakes. But what if the Devils lose out on Shattenkirk? There needs to be a backup plan and after the Brendan Smith signing, there aren’t a ton of options available in the free agent market.
One name that’s flown under-the-radar this offseason is Cody Franson. He’s quietly been a very effective defenseman over his two seasons for the Buffalo Sabres. He hasn’t been on the greatest of teams, but he’s more than held his own for the Sabres when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5 and has some attributes that Ray Shero could be looking for.
Over his time in Buffalo, Franson has been a 50.5% possession player and has a relative Corsi For % of +3.8%, which is the tenth best mark in the NHL for defensemen with 1000+ minutes since 2015. He’s also done a good job of suppressing shots at 51.3 shot attempts against per 60 minutes since joining Buffalo. His shot generating rates aren’t as good as his shot suppression rates, but he still manages 52.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes. All in all, his shot metrics have been pretty good for Buffalo and that’s coming on a team that’s had their fair share of trouble preventing shots and scoring chances during that time.
It wouldn’t even be a stretch to say Franson has, at worst, been Buffalo’s second best defenseman over the last two seasons. He’s the only defenseman in positive possession and only one where Buffalo has seen their possession numbers improve when on the ice. He may not have the offensive output of Rasmus Ristolainen, but has the upper-hand when it comes to preventing and generating shots and scoring chances.
Although Franson’s offensive output isn’t that of Ristolainen’s, he’s still a fairly productive defenseman. Over his time in Buffalo, he’s averaged 23 points per 82 games, which is a solid mark. He’s also averaged more points per 60 minutes than Ristolainen at even-strength. The difference here is that Ristolainen is one of the best producers on the power play, where he has the third highest average points per 60 for a defenseman since 2015. The same can’t be said for Franson, although there could be a role for him with the man advantage in New Jersey.
Prior to his time in Buffalo, Franson was a very effective power play quarter back for the Toronto Maple Leafs. During his time with the Leafs, Franson had the fifth highest points per 60 in the league on the power play and was better than the likes of Kris Letang and Shea Weber. For whatever reason, Buffalo chose not use him on the power play and only proved to be a detriment to the team. He was quite effective with the man up and has the offensive ability to do so. If he lands in New Jersey, it would not at all surprise me to see John Hynes give him a shot with the man advantage once again, which could lead to an uptick in Franson’s offensive output.
Franson is one of the better names available in this year’s free agent class, especially after Brendan Smith re-signed with the Rangers. Devils beat writer, Andrew Gross, mentioned in an article Wednesday that Franson is one name Ray Shero could look to when free agency opens up on Saturday. At 29 years old, Franson still has some good years left ahead of him and he is still a productive player. Not only does he give New Jersey some skating and offensive ability on the back end, but at 6’5, 224 lbs, he gives them a physical presence; a good combination of tools to have.
Ray Shero could go to Franson in the case the Devils lose out on Kevin Shattenkirk, which would not be the worst plan B. After Shattenkirk, there aren’t a ton of puck-moving defenseman available on the free agent market. Franson would be that and he probably would come on a pretty cost effective, team-friendly deal. Don’t surprised if come July 1st, we see Cody Franson ink a deal with the New Jersey Devils; with or without Kevin Shattenkirk.
Advanced stats are from Hockey Analysis