2011 Off-Season Part 2: On Lombardi and Franson

"I never liked Carrie Underwood anyway"

"I never liked Carrie Underwood anyway" (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

In part 2 of our ongoing analysis of the 2011 Off-season, we’ll be looking at the July 3rd, 2011 trade that saw Brett Lebda, a conditional 4th round pick in 2013 and Robert Slaney (who?) shipped out to Nashville in exchange for head patient Matthew Lombardi and Leaf-fan Cody Franson.  After the jump, we’ll take a longer look at the acquisitions and what it means for the Leafs come October

Matthew Lombardi

His tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs might only be a footnote in the annals, albeit an expensive one.  Lombardi comes to Toronto as the 7 million dollar service charge for Cody Franson one year into a 3 year-10.5 million dollar deal he signed with Nashville.  His 2010 – 2011 season was cut short when he suffered a devastating concussion – his second – on October 13, 2010 against the Chicago Blackhawks.  The reality is that Lombardi isn’t ready resume workouts, almost nine months after sustaining the injury.

Much like the signing of Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi – when healthy – represents a creative playmaking option with good awareness in all three zones.  He’s tallied 11 short handed goals throughout his career, which should help to add a little more bite to the Leafs moribund PK.  At his best, Lombardi is a second liner with blazing speed and good awareness on both sides of the puck.  Already a quick team, the Leafs would only improve upon this strength should he come into the lineup.  Within the right coaching system, the Leafs would have the speed at all positions to play with any team any given night.

From Nashville’s perspective, they were a playoff caliber team last season without Lombardi, and the concussion and insurance problems – combined with his cap hit – made him an albatross to the frugal (though brilliant) David Poile.  That Nashville turned around and signed Nik Bergfors right after for about 1/7th the price of Lombardi should come as no surprise.  Poile will likely use the saved money to overpay on his improperly qualified RFAs and Shea Weber.

In terms of total offense, Lombardi represents an upgrade over Tyler Bozak in the third line centre spot.  However, Lombardi won’t be filling the net up too much, with only 89 goals in 446 games played.  A further concern would be his less than stellar career faceoff win percentage of 49.6%.  Should he eventually suit up for the Leafs, he might be better suited to playing on the left wing.

At a cap hit of 3.5 million per season, Lombardi’s salary is a tad undesirable given his prospective position in the Leafs depth chart.  But that’s really only a problem if he’s healthy and not producing (more on that later).  This deal – like the Beauchemin trade – is more about Franson than Lombardi.  Much like Lupul, if Lombardi can produce, then all the better for the Blue and White.  Just don’t bet the farm on it.

Cody Franson

As for Franson, this was the treat for absorbing Lombardi’s salary.  Nashville dealt from a position of strength here.  They lost a decent roster player in Cody, but he was receiving the 7th most amount of ice time amongst Predators’ defenders.  So despite his point totals and his decent +/-, he was expendable.  Still only 24 when the 2011 – 2012 begins in October, Franson should figure to play bottom pairing minutes at even strength.  Under Barry Trotz, he was given sheltered minutes during 5 on 5, playing against lesser opposition and with very favourable O-zone starts (Joe Cino will be stopping by shortly to explain it all at length).

The book on Franson is that he’s a got a bomb from the back end, and the size that every team in the league envies.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t move well north-south and doesn’t use his intimidating frame nearly enough.  Coaching, conditioning and personal maturation will be the keys to Franson’s success.  While Franson leaves a lot to be desired in the physical element of the game, he’s still a responsible and improving young player who grew up as a Toronto fan.  He’s got a solid outlet pass and should help to improve the Leafs transition game.  The acquisition makes Mike Komisarek and Jeff Finger even more expendable (if possible).

There are some out there suggesting that the trade for Franson could make Luke Schenn expendable.  No one player is totally indispensible, but Luke Schenn’s departure from Toronto is more likely to be in a hearse at this present juncture.

What is great about this move is that Burke got a right handed shot with some offensive pedigree.  This should add a new look (and hopefully success) to special teams.  Franson should expect to see his PP ice time increase in Toronto, becoming the de facto partner to Carl Gunnarsson on the leafs 2nd PP unit and should see an increase on his 1:53 PPTOI from last season in Nashville.  Ron Wilson stresses the importance of competition (something he should be very familiar with now that Scott Gordon has been hired), and its not out of the realm of possibility that Franson could supplant Dion Phaneuf as the trigger man on the 1st Power play unit if his play warrants it.

As it stands one day after the trade, the Leafs now have one of the most promising defense corps in the Eastern conference, with Phaneuf, Aulie, Schenn, Gunnarsson and now Franson all 26 years of age or under.

Brett Lebda

Goodbye, good luck, good riddance.  The only downside of this trade is that it opens up a glaring hole on the Leafs roster: most despised player.  If retained, my bet is for Mike Komisarek to take up the mantle.

Bits and Pieces and Why I’m okay with this Trade

Depending on who you talk to, getting the best player in a trade means you’ve won it.  Lombardi has the track record and Franson the future.  It’s doubtful that Robert Slaney will amount to much, and well we all know Lebda’s value.  In that sense, the trade is reminiscent of the larceny Burke pulled back in January of 2010 for Phaneuf and Aulie.

At a glance, the Leafs won this trade hands down.  Although in fairness this isn’t the sort of trade that can be won or lost in the conventional sense.  This was a money move, same as the Jeff Carter/Mike Richards madness.  Poile has a tight budget and a crop of defensive prospects.  He could afford to lose Franson to lose Lombardi, and he’s never been afraid of making unpopular moves for the sake of his franchise.  Ryan Ellis will soon be making all 7 seven Nashville fans say “Cody who?”

For the Leafs, its only money.  While some fans might have a bitter taste in their mouth of paying 3.5 million per season for nothing, I’m fine with it.  First off, Jeff Finger has been doing that for 3 years already.  Secondly, Lombardi might be able to come back, and if he could play at or near his previous level, then the club will be better off for it.  And finally, in the salary cap era with revenue and profit sharing, there was a good chance that the Leafs were going to be paying Matthew Lombardi’s (and heck, probably Ryan Malone’s) salary even if he doesn’t live in an M4 postal code.

Tangential to Lombardi’s situation, over at TSN there will be a 5 part series hosted by Dave Naylor looking at violence in sports and where/how sports need to evolve to better protect the wellbeing of its players without ruining the game.  As a victim of a concussion or two myself, it’s a good read.  I mean, what I can understand of it anyway :P.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 2.  Hopefully, Burke will do us a favour and give us good reason to serve up part 3 later this week.