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updated: 1/14/2018 10:52 AM

Defenseman Franson at a loss to explain Blackhawks' waiver move

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  • Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Cody Franson said he was shocked when the Blackhawks placed him and waivers, and then surprised that he wasn't claimed.

    Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Cody Franson said he was shocked when the Blackhawks placed him and waivers, and then surprised that he wasn't claimed.
    Associated Press

 
 

While the phone call came at 10 p.m. Sunday, the disappointment and shock has yet to wear off for Cody Franson.

Sitting at home with his wife and two kids, Franson took a call from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and thought to himself: "I'm being traded."

When the 30-year-old defenseman learned that wasn't the case -- that the Hawks were placing him on waivers -- his mind started racing.

"The first sensation that went through me was, 'Did they just not want me anymore? Could they not have traded me?' " Franson said in a phone interview Thursday. "You kind of have that sense of 'What just happened?' Like they're literally just trying to get rid of me. You get that sense that there's no value."

The next day, Franson searched the internet to figure out where he might end up. He figured a playoff team would love to have a 30-year-old experienced D-man on an affordable contract.

But that didn't happen, and the next thing Franson knew he was packing for Rockford to play for the AHL's IceHogs.

"It's extremely frustrating," he said. "I was playing with (Duncan Keith) for 20 minutes a night. Then you get a fluke injury, you take a few weeks to come back and all of a sudden they don't know where you slot in. ...

"I can't lie that I was hoping to get picked up and go to somebody that wanted me. All I can do now is go out there and try and play hard and hope for the best."

Veteran defenseman Cody Franson, here enjoying high-fives during the red carpet ceremony before the Blackhawks home opener this season, said he tried to help younger players adjust to the NHL game.
Veteran defenseman Cody Franson, here enjoying high-fives during the red carpet ceremony before the Blackhawks home opener this season, said he tried to help younger players adjust to the NHL game. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Franson arrived at training camp in September on a professional tryout agreement and impressed coaches enough to be offered a one-year, $1 million deal. He eventually carved out a significant role, playing with Keith and becoming a staple on the power play.

"I really like playing with him," Keith said at the time. "We both read the game in similar ways and try to use our brain to see the ice and make plays out of the zone. … I feel really comfortable playing with him and he adds to my game."

Then an injury on Dec. 8 vs. Buffalo derailed Franson's season. A harmless-looking shove in the back ended up breaking two ribs, and the 6-foot-5, 224-pound defenseman missed the next seven games. When Franson returned, his ice time dipped from 18-20 minutes to 12-15 minutes as Quenneville kept the ever-improving Jordan Oesterle with Keith.

Always a team player

When Franson got to training camp, it would have been easy to keep his head down, stay quiet and cozy up with good buddy Brent Seabrook.

He could have shunned -- or backstabbed -- up-and-comers like Oesterle and Erik Gustafsson to give himself the best possible chance to stick.

That's not Franson's style, and it's definitely not how Franson was treated almost a decade ago as an up-and-coming player with Nashville.

Franson vividly recalls going to a fancy steak joint early in training camp with teammates Shea Weber, Jordin Tootoo, Kevin Klein and Jerred Smithson. The fresh-faced newcomer was doing everything he could to stretch the per-diem he was handed just a few days before, so when the waiter arrived, Franson ordered some cost-conscious items.

"Bill comes out and I'm thinking, 'OK, my dinner was probably like $7,' " Franson said in an interview in November. "They take the bill and go, 'OK, Frannie, your half is $140.' "

Speechless, Franson wasn't sure how to respond.

Fortunately, Weber and Co. didn't let the charade go on too long before they paid the bill.

"They brought me out -- a guy that's trying to come up -- and they didn't tell me they were taking me out for dinner," Franson said. "They wanted to get a rise out of me, see how I'd react if I had to pay a lot more than I was used to. Stuff like that you never forget."

Moments like that are a big reason Franson chooses to pay it forward. He did just that during training camp by offering advice to Gustafsson, Oesterle and Ville Pokka, as well as being a role model of how a pro goes about his business on and off the ice.

Said GM Stan Bowman: "(He came) into a situation where he doesn't really know any of these younger players and he didn't have to try to mentor any of them, but when you are that kind of person you just do it instinctively. And that's one of the things you like about him as a person."

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been working to build a team with more speed.
Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been working to build a team with more speed. - Associated Press
The transition

Bowman wants the Hawks to get younger and faster, and they've done that. The question is, are bigger players like Franson about to become extinct? Should it really all be about speed?

Franson doesn't think so, and he believes teams with postseason aspirations that go too young are in for a shock.

"It's a copycat league and obviously the game's getting faster," Franson said. "But there's going to be people that find out the hard way that (speed and youth are) not everything. You can't replace experience.

"Sometimes organizations … start changing a bunch of things and they put it in a bunch of young people's hands and there's growing pains that go with that."

Let's make one thing clear -- Franson is extremely happy for Oesterle and hopes he continues to play well. He does wonder, though, what will happen to all the young Hawks in April when the lights get brighter and the pressure builds.

"It wasn't so much that he was playing poorly," Bowman said of Franson. "It was really more that Erik (Gustafsson) was playing really well and we wanted to get a look at him."

Franson admits it's difficult not to think he made the wrong decision about coming to the Hawks. In the next breath, though, he said it's impossible to know what would have transpired elsewhere.

For now, Franson vows to do what he has done since arriving in Chicago -- mentor the franchise's up-and-comers while playing as hard as he can to get back in the NHL.

"That's one of the joys I have of the situation I'm in right now," Franson said. "This team is extremely young here in Rockford. …

"It's a fun challenge to be able to go out there with these guys and try and help them, and smooth out that learning curve for them."

Defenseman Cody Franson says he'll use his time in Rockford to help others while he proves he can still play at the NHL level.
Defenseman Cody Franson says he'll use his time in Rockford to help others while he proves he can still play at the NHL level. - Associated Press

Twitter: @johndietzdh

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