The Chicago Blackhawks have signed free agent defenseman Cody Franson to a professional tryout contract, reports Dhiren Mahiban. He says the former Sabres blue liner passed on one-year offers from other teams in favor of the PTO with Chicago.
Franson, 30, was the top defenseman remaining on the unrestricted free agent market. He immediately becomes the favorite to earn the spot as the Hawks’ third right-handed defenseman behind Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy.
The Blackhawks enter training camp with a defense that looks much different than last season. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Johnny Oduya are out, and a host of younger, faster players will likely fill a bunch of those spots.
The team already has two locks for the right side in Seabrook and Murphy, but it was an open question who would get the spot on the third pairing. Ville Pokka, Jan Rutta, and Michal Rozsival are among the options, although the first two are unproven and Rozy is reportedly dealing with post-concussion issues.
So Franson becomes the likely option there, and he’s a fantastic fit as a third pairing defenseman. He brings size at 6’5, 224 pounds, has four seasons of 29-plus points, and puts up strong possession numbers every year. Yes, part of that was being put in favorable positions at times, but it reflects well on Franson that he succeeded in those roles anyway.
And it’s not like he’ll be asked to be the Blackhawks’ No. 1 defenseman. The team has three parts of its top four likely set with Keith, Seabrook, and Murphy. The second pairing lefty will likely be Gustav Forsling or Michal Kempny, with the other one on the third pairing. Jordan Oesterle and Erik Gustafsson are the other guys who could factor in there.
As for the salary cap, it’s fair to assume that there’s probably a bit of backdoor dealing going on here. The Blackhawks are already at the salary cap, so they can’t afford to give Franson a deal beyond the league minimum now.
However, that’ll change when Marian Hossa goes on long-term injured reserve at the start of the season, which seems like a lock at this point. So Franson can just play out camp and preseason on the PTO, then sign a one-year deal with the Blackhawks for, say, $2 million in early October.