News broke Sunday morning that the Predators had swapped for a pair of familiar faces.
Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli are coming back to Nashville, as Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and a 1st round pick find new homes in Toronto. Franson and Santorelli were both drafted by Nashville (79th overall in 2005 and 176th overall in 2004, respectively) and, though it's been several years since either of them played here, they'll be put in a spot where transition could come very easy. It also bolsters an already impressive blue line, while addressing the problem Nashville has had with tertiary scoring.
2015 Trade Deadline
2015 Trade Deadline
Now, a 1st round pick may seem like a bit much to give up, especially given the notion that Franson may not re-sign with the club. He's expected to command well over $5 million per season in the summer, which may not make much sense for the Predators, depending on what the defense looks like after the deadline.
However, the last time they shipped out a 1st rounder was in 2012, when they acquired pending UFA Paul Gaustad. Gaustad is still with the team, (though discussions about the price and his contract still remain) and the pick (later sent to Calgary) became Mark Jankowski, selected 21st overall. Three years later, 20-year-old Jankowski is still in his collegiate career and is projected to be a third-line player with potential second-line upside.
This year's pick will likely fall into a similar position, meaning it'll likely be several years before Toronto sees any value from it. With the success David Poile had last draft, sacrificing a later pick while keeping Kevin Fiala and co. around and adding depth may be worth it. Especially considering the other pieces both on and off the current roster.
But what of the two players coming back to the team? Let's dive in.
The 6'5'' defenseman was a constant target in trade rumors for a team looking to add a short-term boost to their blue line. On a marginal to bad Maple Leafs team, Franson has managed 32 points (6G, 26A). Given that he only needs one more to tie his career-best point total, he's likely to have his most productive season as an NHL player. (That's going to lead into that big payday we mentioned.)
It's worth noting, though, that despite Toronto's struggles to keep the puck out of their own zone, Franson always performed better relative to his team. In fact, if you compare his usage to Nashville's current crop of defenseman, you should feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Franson is getting a fair amount of minutes and heavy defensive zone starts against top competition, and actually coming out a little ahead. Moreover, he's producing like a top-pair defenseman on top of that usage, even though he's realistically a top-4 player.
If he's to be a bottom pair defenseman, that's really, really good. With Ryan Ellis out, Franson will likely fill in on said second pair for the time being. A task he's obviously suited for. How the lineup shakes out when everyone is fully healthy is a different question. The Ellis/Ekholm pairing has just been so good, it's hard to see them being broken up. Jones has proven he can more than hold his own with bottom pair minutes, so a Franson/Jones pair should not frighten you. Given his deployment, he could thrive with easier minutes.
That leaves six Nashville blue liners that could be between the top one to three defensemen on many other teams. They've all been drafted by Nashville, as well. That's incredible.
Of course, all this can change on a dime, as Josh Cooper noted earlier today:
The Predators get two solid depth pieces in the Sicamous, British Columbia born Franson – a good friend of Shea Weber’s – who can directly jump on the team’s second pair with Ryan Ellis out with an injury. Also, if Nashville wants to deal Ellis – a 2009 first round pick – for a center piece -- which I still think they badly need, they can do so. Currently the Predators have Weber, Franson, and Seth Jones and Ellis as right-handed shooting defensemen.
Who knows whether that's in the cards or not. For now, Nashville has possibly the deepest defense in the league. Don't forget about Anton Volchenkov and Victor Bartley, who are more than serviceable players than can fill in when needed.
You may not realize this, but Santorelli is now tied for seventh in Predators' scoring along with Craig Smith. He has 11 goals and 18 assists on the campaign and, like Franson, his possession stats haven't been helped by playing with the Leafs. But, like Franson, he's posting a relative Corsi of 3.1 at evens according to Behind the Net, though War on Ice has him at 0.8 when adjusting for score. Throughout his career he has been a consistently even possession player, so you'd expect to see a return to that with Nashville.
This season, the Vancouver native ranked fourth among Toronto players (minimum 500 minutes) in shots and points per 60 minutes of play. Those rates would put him smack in the middle among the 13 Nashville players that have skated as much, which is perfect for what the Predators need.
Analytics connoisseur and Leafs expert Stephen Burtch hit us up on Twitter a little earlier this afternoon. He's a big fan of both players and their underlying numbers:
@OnTheForecheck Not sure if your followers are aware of how good Franson and Santorelli have been playing this year.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) February 15, 2015
@OnTheForecheck Both have been two of the most consistent performers on the team all season - Santorelli-Kadri-Winnik have been very good.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) February 15, 2015
@OnTheForecheck and Santorelli-Kadri-Winnik were drawing top opposition, if you play him as a 3W he should do very well.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) February 15, 2015
From the outside, it looks like the third line is exactly where Santorelli is going to end up. Even though Filip Forsberg and Taylor Beck are currently occupying Calle Jarnkrok's wings, it's a safe assumption that at some point in time Forsberg will return to the first or second line. Maximizing Forsberg's scoring potential while adding a solid (and productive) depth winger should do wonders for the team.
That part is crucial, as the third line has had trouble pitching in with any regularity all season. Not that it should be counted on for scoring, but when Matt Cullen and Jarnkrok's combined point total is less than Santorelli's, something needs to change. To Burtch's point about Santorelli's production, see for yourself:
He's been getting second-line minutes with Toronto, and he's been producing right on the cusp of that. A line of Santorelli-Jarnkrok-Cullen could certainly rectify the third line woes. That's exactly what Nashville traded for, and if he can do what he did in a Carlyle/Horachek system, he should be able to produce just as well (if not better) in a Laviolette system.
This wasn't a blockbuster deal or one to completely change the face of the team... Nashville doesn't need that. Instead, it was a total depth move so David Poile can set his team up for a playoff push. Without the depth at center, the Predators are going to need all the help they can get shoring up other facets of their play. With Franson as a potential bottom pair defender, and Rinne in goal, they're set up better on the back end better than almost any other squad.
Even though both players could potentially be gone by this summer, giving up an unused player, a prospect that won't be ready for a few more years, and a late 1st round pick is a very fair price to pay. Nashville got better, all while keeping the main pieces of the team (and farm system) intact. That's a win in every sense of the word. Now we just wait to see what tomorrow brings...