Ask a hockey player about advanced possession stats — numbers that go beyond just goals and assists and try to get a more accurate analysis of a player’s individual impact — and you’re usually greeted with an eye roll, a grimace, an exaggerated sigh and in some cases, a little invective. Most veteran players believe in grit and goals more than Corsi and shot attempts.
Not defenseman Cody Franson. He loves advanced stats. Mainly because his are excellent.
“I take a lot of pride in putting up those numbers,” Franson said. “Some people take those into account, some don’t. Obviously, I’m biased because I have good numbers. But I think they count for something. I thought I played a lot of really good hockey last year [with the Sabres], and the stats just never really showed up for me. With any luck, I think that could have been a 30-point season last year.”
Franson stands right in the middle of the ever-raging analytics debate in the hockey world, a power struggle pitting traditional counting stats and old-school scouts against advanced metrics and new-school number-crunchers. Franson isn’t fast. He’s 6-5, 234 pounds but isn’t a heavy hitter. He has never posted more than 36 points in his eight seasons with the Predators, Maple Leafs and Sabres. He had just three goals and 16 assists in 68 games last year with the Sabres.
But Franson has a booming shot, and his teams have the puck more when he’s on the ice than when he isn’t. The numbers don’t lie: Despite being on some pretty bad teams over the years, Franson has consistently put up solid possession numbers, with his team attempting more shots than its opponents with him on the ice. Last season, the Sabres’ goal differential without Franson on the ice was a pathetic minus-34. With Franson on the ice, it was just minus-2.
It’s a big reason why the analytics-minded Blackhawks brought him into training camp for a tryout.
“He has a lot of attributes you look for in a defenseman — big, mobile, can shoot the puck and has some experience,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a good opportunity for him to show his stuff here in scrimmages. He give us some size and is something nice to look at.”
It has been a frustrating summer for Franson, who went unsigned despite the perennial need for proven defensemen around the league. But Franson, who made $3.325 million last season, and his agent pored over the 31 rosters around the league and kept coming back to the Hawks, who had a glaring need for a right-handed shot. Franson had contract offers from other teams but chose to come to the Hawks, knowing they’ll have some money to play with once they put Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve after the start of the season.
Unlike most on player tryouts (PTOs), Franson is expected to make the team. But he still took a significant risk by turning down a guaranteed contract.
“It was always going to be a PTO if it was Chicago,” Franson said. “The chance and the opportunity was the most important thing this year, so I’m kind of betting on myself here.”
Franson has long been an admirer of the Hawks, getting a sense of what it’s like to play in Chicago from frequent trips with the Predators and summer hangouts with his Kelowna, British Columbia, buddies Brent Seabrook and Jordin Tootoo. Despite the lack of security, Franson was confident he made the right decision. The Hawks would offer him the best chance to win and the best atmosphere to play in after two years of irrelevance in Buffalo.
On Day 2, at the Hawks’ annual training-camp festival Saturday, he knew for sure.
“I pulled up to the United Center in a cab at 8:30, and the line was about four blocks long already,” Franson said. “That’s part of the reason I made my decision to come here, to have a chance to play in this atmosphere. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
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