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Once a promising defenseman with impressive offensive talents, "Fruit Cup" hasn't fit in with the Toronto Maple Leafs since a July 2011 trade from Nashville sent him north with center Matthew Lombardi. Even though the Preds received little in return, that deal looks like a swindle now.
Remember that surprising news from July 3rd, 2011? On that day, Cody Franson & Matthew Lombardi were traded by David Poile to Toronto for the widely-ridiculed Brett Lebda, and minor league forward Robert Slaney.
Judging from the talent going in each direction, it was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time:
Wow. As a standalone deal, this is terrible, but it looks like the prelude to something bigger, just like the Jason Arnott trade created the room to sign Lombardi last summer.
The hockey value coming back here is pretty negligible. Slaney spent most of last season in the ECHL, and Lebda is a bottom-pairing defenseman. The value here, I suppose, is trimming $4.3 million from this season's payroll (although Lebda makes $1.45M this season), and opening a spot on defense for one of the young guns like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, or Mattias Ekholm.
This move was a pure salary dump, but it looks even savvier today, with the news that Cody Franson has signed with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League.
No, this isn't just a short-term deal to keep him busy during the lockout, he's jumped on board for the entire season, per Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press (although a subsequent report casts doubt on that). A restricted free agent this summer, Franson and the Leafs haven't been able to hammer out a deal, so off he goes...
Recall that Nashville bought out Lebda's contract before he even had the chance to pull on a uniform, so they're on the hook for 2/3rds of his remaining contract (even during the lockout, buyouts still get paid). Slaney was a throw-in for the Blake Geoffrion/Hal Gill trade, so he's no longer in the system or on the books.
Let's compare what the Predators and Maple Leafs enjoyed last season as a result of that trade, and what they have going forward:
|Nashville Predators||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Brett Lebda||$517K||--||Matthew Lombardi||$3.5M||8 G, 10 A = 18 Pts|
|Robert Slaney||Peanuts||ECHL/AHL split||Cody Franson||$800K||5 G, 16 A = 21 Pts|
|Brett Lebda||$467K||--||Matthew Lombardi||$3.5M||???|
Remember that this deal was characterized as Toronto leveraging their ability to take on the financial risk of whether or not Matthew Lombardi would be able to get back to 100% following his concussion, but cashing in for taking that risk by picking up a young, capable blueliner in Franson.
Without Franson in the fold, however, the Leafs are left hoping that the Lombardi gamble pays off, big time. Otherwise, they're left paying $3.5 million for offensive production along the lines of Nick Spaling, instead of the 50-point level that many were hoping to see.
Meanwhile, David Poile has saved the Predators millions of dollars, and Franson's spot on the right side of the defense appears to be filled by Ryan Ellis. I'd call that a nice win for Nashville...