Investments can be a tricky thing, especially those of the long-term variety. In order to succeed in an ever-changing and fluctuating market, copious amounts of research must be combined with a critical eye in order to make an educated decision about the risk and reward over a fixed period of time. Once a comfortable level of confidence is reached, the investment can be made and the waiting game begins. Some investments pan out immediately and the fruits are reaped within a matter of days or months. Other investments take time to mature, steadily growing over multiple years with rewards coming more evenly. Other investments start strong, level off and then ultimately under-perform over the long term. Then, of course, there are those investments that turn into nothing more than a major flop and a waste of money.
This is basic economics and I’m sure many of you have a well-rounded understanding of how these investments work. This is also the same process that guys like Ken Holland and Jim Nill go through when evaluating contracts for young players with tons of “potential” and “upside.” But let’s not kid ourselves. Those words mean nothing more than “chance” and “risk”, just with a better PR spin. It’s part of the game and it’s an understanding that everyone attached to the league or an organization shares.
Which brings us to one of the Wings’ more interesting investments over the last couple of years: Johan Franzen’s 11 year contract extension, circa 2009.
Let’s take a trip in the TPL time machine, all the way back to 2006. Franzen, fresh off of his rookie season, inks a three year deal with the Wings, worth a very reasonable $2.825 million over the life of the deal. A solid investment in potential? You betcha, and Ken Holland confirms the reasoning:
“Johan had a very good rookie season in the NHL,” Wings GM Ken Holland said in a statement. “He was a big part of our penalty killing, provided us with a physical presence and played very well in the playoffs. Moving into his second NHL season and beyond, we’re hopeful he can gain some confidence and increase his contribution in the scoring department as well.”
Franzen would do exactly that, continuing a solid upward trend in points over the next three seasons. His game was physical. His play was clutch. And for a guy making just over $1 million in ’08-’09, 34 goals and 59 points in the regular season was exactly what the Wings were hoping for when they inked that deal three years prior. He was fulfilling his “upside.” He was fleshing out his “potential.” A new contract was coming before the playoffs and everyone knew it.
Fast forward then to April 11th, 2009, when Franzen inked an 11 year, front-loaded extension worth just shy of $4 million per season. Cue Ken Holland:
“His production over the past year and a half, both regular season and playoffs, has been remarkable and we feel, at 29 years old, that he is just now entering the prime of his career,” said general manager Ken Holland.
Franzen immediately rewarded the faith of the front office by posting 12 goals and 23 points in the playoffs, and everybody rejoiced in the fact that Franzen was likely a Wing4Lyfe…despite the fact that superstar Marian Hossa would eventually head out the door to Chicago for more money and the long-term deal that the Wings had already given “the Mule.” (Frankly, we could sit here and discuss which move turned out better for an entire post, but in the interest of letting long-term investments play out, we’ll reserve judgment for the time being.)
Unfortunately for Franzen, the next year started with a bust…of an ACL and 55 games on the sidelines. After rehab and returning to finish out the regular season, Franzen appeared to find his game in the playoffs with 6 goals and 18 points in 12 games. But let’s not forget that four of those goals came in a throw-away Game 4 against the Sharks, so while the numbers look good, they deserve a heaping spoonful of context. That said, Franzen did post 21 points in 27 regular season games after injury, which combined with his playoff performance, was enough to keep optimism high around the Mule.
Everything up to this point, however, has been nothing more than context around the failure of a season Franzen had this past year. Yes, I said it: FAILURE. Yes, I realize that Franzen led the team in goals, but (paging “context” to the post, please) I also realize that he only outscored Dan Cleary by two goals, and if you drop his five goal outburst against Ottawa from the stats, his 23 goals tied the output of Pavel Datsyuk…who only played 56 games last year. While that might not seem like much, remember that Datsyuk made $6.7 million last season and still put up more total points than the Mule, who made a cool $5 million last year (to be fair, his cap hit was only $3.954 million.) Now am I saying that Franzen and Datsyuk should be on the same level in terms of skill and output? No, I’m not. But the money being paid Franzen seems to say otherwise.
The fact is that Franzen’s production disappointed last season, and it’s fair to raise an eyebrow and start wondering what was going on. When you combine that with questionable effort and a perceived lack of interest from game-to-game, it begins to become troublesome. To this day, I still cringe when I re-read the “I don’t like the regular season” comment. Oh you don’t? Well the Wings are giving you almost $4 million reasons why you should, so maybe it’s time to re-think that stance. Attitude like that has no place in the organization, and frankly I’m surprised that nobody called him out on it. Maybe they did, who knows, but I won’t believe it until I start seeing the on-ice product reflect it.
OK, OK. I’ve bagged on The Mule enough and that’s not the point of this post. Maybe the Mule was still lingering from his ACL tear or maybe his mind was too preoccupied with the birth of his first child. Stress lives with everyone, and there’s no way Johan Franzen doesn’t deal with it too. He may be The Mule, but he’s also mortal.
Here’s the question though: If Franzen doesn’t meet expectations, is it time to cut ties?
Now hear me out. I know this isn’t the most popular opinion, but let’s play “what if” for a second and think this through. With a shake-up in the coaching staff, Mike Babcock has already said he’s expecting some new life to be infused into the team, and I guarantee you he’s hoping Johan Franzen is one of the guys to help bring a new dawn. At the same time, Franzen is entering his first season where folks are questioning his game, so he should already have the proverbial chip on his shoulder. We know he’s capable of producing points and being physical. Everything is lining up for The Mule to make it happen over the regular season.
So what if we get to the All Star Break and Franzen’s tallied 20 points and continues to look disinterested? What if we hit the trade deadline and Franzen’s mind is elsewhere and his point production isn’t trending into the 60-70 point range?
I know exactly what I’m doing: Trade. To a bottom-feeder. Petrella and I have talked this topic through for months now, and the fact remains that if Franzen doesn’t look like he gives a damn and his production doesn’t either, why not sell while his stock is still reasonably high to a team looking for a presence like his? Franzen is easily worth a lottery first round pick should the Wings want to go that route, and with a knack for finding talent late in the draft, I’m sure Ken Holland and Co. would love the opportunity to snatch up a premier prospect with one of the Top 5 picks. Yes, Franzen is a popular guy and yes, there would be trepidation about moving him, but from where I sit, a young kid with boatloads of potential is worth dropping a player who may or may not care about his on-ice product every given night and the albatross of a contract that runs into the next decade that he carries with him.
Will it happen? Probably not. I’m sure the Wings still have all the faith in the world that The Mule will pan out into the player they believe he can be. And there’s also a very good chance he’ll find his game this year and silence the critics. At the end of the day, though, the future of Franzen in Motown is on his own shoulders and he can write his own script for his career. I just know what I would do if he struggles again this season, and I’m sure it’s the unpopular opinion in a sea of Franzen supporters.
So I’ll pose the question to you: What should the Wings do with Johan Franzen should he fail to meet expectations by the deadline?
Photo credit: New York Post