The next chapter has begun, which means a different breed of player.
The thumb-pecking pundits of the hockey world have certainly been busy finding fault with the Buffalo Sabres so far this season. It’s hard to imagine why they’d be the target of such a focused assault – after all of the torment they received while struggling through the tank last season, you’d think that the country would be happy to just let them be as new coach Dan Bylsma molds his new set of players into a team. We find ourselves oddly defending players that have had pretty damned good seasons so far – players like Jack Eichel and Evander Kane (before the injury.)
Another player that has been on the receiving end of some animosity is Cody Franson. The free agent defenseman signed to a two year deal in September, which raised some eyebrows – including my own. Did the Sabres really need another right-handed D-man? On paper, no, they did not. They had a young stud in Rasmus Ristolainen and everyone expected Zach Bogosian to be the other right-hand man on the power play point.
Thankfully for all of us, GM Tim Murray knew better than we did. How dare we question Murray regarding anything (other than his goaltender selection)? Franson was brought in to energize the power play and that he has done. He was brought in to raise the scoring acumen of a team that was dead-last in the league in goals for just months ago, and that, he has done. Was he brought in to get caught flat-footed at the blue line when a puck gets chipped past him and allows for a quick break the other way? Well…kinda…He was definitely not brought in to be a stay-at-home defenseman who is going to deliver a punishing hit in the corner. He was not brought in to split 2-on-1 and layout to take the pass in the midsection. He was brought on to pump some life into Buffalo’s anemic scoring from the last two seasons.
His contributions aren’t mind blowing – seven points on the season (1G, 6A) with four assists coming on the power play. The power play, by the way, is top-five in the league (5th in PP%, 4th in PP goals.) Franson is fourth on the team in points – only one behind Risto, butFranson’s minus-1 is far better than Rasmus’ minus-7. I’m not a fan of +/- as a stat, but in this instance, it shows that Franson’s inept defensive play is overblown – despite his power play minutes, he’s not on the ice for many even-strength goals against.
Franson definitely knew his role here from the start. In the interview following his signing, he spoke of his excitement to play with certain players on the Buffalo squad – all forwards…“Bringing in guys like [Ryan] O'Reilly and [Evander Kane] and a number of the acquisitions they made, and drafting a guy like [Jack] Eichel, it's an organization that's going in the right direction," Franson said at First Niagara Center. "It made my decision very easy to want to be a part of that."
We’ve spent the last several seasons being critical of Buffalo’s players for a lot of reasons. As I’ve mentioned, though, we are no longer a group of players – we are a team. Good teams have role players. Good role players make great teams. In his brief career as a Sabre, Franson has filled his role as a power play specialist, and given our scoring a boost. He’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do, and I think a different perspective would serve to benefit fans. Maybe instead of ‘Let’s Go Buffalo,’ we need to remember to ‘Let It Go, Buffalo.’ The tank is over; it’s time we enjoyed hockey again.