Life in Toronto hasn't always been cozy for defenceman Cody Franson.
In his first year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was quite unhappy upon learning he'd be a healthy scratch for the season opener despite coming off two solid seasons with the Nashville Predators.
He still managed to have a decent year with the Maple Leafs scoring five goals and 21 points in 57 games.
Then this season, his third with the organization, Franson missed training camp because of a contract dispute. He signed just before the start of the year and has produced a team-high 27 points from the blue-line.
Franson has also added a physical element to his game and leads the Leafs this season in hits with 212. That's a far cry from the 275 Matt Martin of the New York Islanders has to lead the NHL, but a respectable total nevertheless.
At six-foot-five and 213 pounds, Franson doesn't always crush his opponent, but he has added a little oomph to his hits this season.
"I have been trying to [hit harder]," he said. "One thing I wanted was to try to play a bigger role on the team and try to be one of those guys who is relied upon. In order to be that guy you have to be able to finish guys and play solid defence and be physical down low. You have to make so that people don't necessarily want to come into your area or try to exploit you. I'm really just trying to round out my game."
When Franson first arrived in Toronto he admitted hitting had never been a big part of his game. He said because of his size, some people were disappointed in his lack of physical play. Now, it is a key ingredient in his game.
"Yeah, to me it is very important," Franson said. "It's one of the things I try to focus on. Everybody was always saying I need to focus on my defence and use my frame to be a more physical kind of guy. It is something I have tried to focus in on. It has improved, but there is always room for more improvement."
Missing training camp is frowned upon by coaches and Maple Leafs boss Randy Carlyle never seems to miss a chance at pointing out Franson didn't participate in camp this season.
Franson, however, feels he has not suffered dramatically because of it.
"Obviously that's not the way we wanted to do it," Franson said. "It's the business side of the game, but I haven't thought about missing training camp for a long time now. I was off to a good start, but you can always improve upon things.
"I can produce more offensively and you can always concentrate on being more physical and better defensively. My plus-minus isn't where I'd like it to be this year, but I've got 22 games left to try to put that in an area where I'd like it to be."
Franson is working on a one-year contract worth $2 million US and will be a restricted free agent come July 1 unless he signs an extension. Because the Maple Leafs will have the ability to match any offer he gets from another team, signing him before July 1 is not a high priority. Franson is cool with that.
"First and foremost we're focused on the task at hand here," Franson said. "I haven't even really thought about the contract to be honest with you. If things were to pick up, then great, but we're focused on the last 22 games of the season and getting ready to put ourselves in a good position to try to improve upon last year."
OTHER FREE AGENTS
The list of potential unrestricted free agents from the Maple Leafs is a long one. It includes David Bolland ($3.38 million), Nikolai Kulemin ($2.8 million), Jay McClement ($1.5 million), Mason Raymond ($1 million), Paul Ranger ($1 million), Troy Bodie ($600,000) and Trevor Smith ($550,000).
Potential restricted free agents include James Reimer ($1.8 million), Jake Gardiner ($875,000) and Carter Ashton ($840,000).
SPREADING THE WEALTH
Toronto's top line of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has supplied the team with excellent offence this season. Coach Randy Carlyle feels the second line of Nazem Kadri between Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson will challenge the top line for offensive minutes in the final 22 games of the season.
Lupul, for one, welcomes the challenge. He feels a key for the success of the line is having right-winger David Clarkson find his game.
"It has obviously been a tough year for Clarkson with the different injuries and suspensions and I think right now he's finally getting back and playing and starting to get into a groove," Lupul said.
"We can play better. I know personally I can play better. I feel good and I feel confident."
KIND WORDS FOR BOZIE
Many have suggested Tyler Bozak is not a prototypical No. 1 centre, but the Maple Leafs are quite comfortable having him on their top line.
"He's a guy that seems underappreciated by everybody except the guys in our locker room," Lupul said. "I know the things he can do. Even when he's not scoring goals he does other things; killing penalties, winning faceoffs.
"He plays well defensively so the points [he collects] are a bonus. He also has good chemistry with Phil and JVR."
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