Franson gets to the point: Veteran D-man still can't believe he's playing in AHL
They can say the darndest things, even "kids" in their early 20s trying to make a name for themselves in the American Hockey League.
Cody Franson has found that out this season when on occasion one of his Rockford IceHogs teammates will refer to him as "dad."
Franson, the 30-year-old defenseman whose wild, roller-coaster season began when he signed a professional tryout agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks in September, doesn't mind the ribbing and knows his teammates are "just joking around."
"I've always enjoyed that part of the leadership role and it's been a lot of fun for me that way here," Franson said.
Still, helping the IceHogs try to win a Calder Cup championship is light years away from where Franson expected to be eight months ago. He came to Chicago because of the Hawks' reputation as winners and because he knew there were gaping holes on the back end.
He signed a one-year, $1 million deal after a strong training camp, sat out nine of the first 11 games, then started getting consistent playing time. Before he knew it, Franson was paired with Duncan Keith, and it looked like his season might really take off.
But a month after suffering two broken ribs in December, Franson was placed on waivers and assigned to Rockford.
The veteran of 550 NHL games refused to sulk, and over the last four months he has been a leader to the young IceHogs and someone first-year AHL coach Jeremy Colliton has sought out for advice in myriad situations.
So what has this season been like for Franson? Did he begin to doubt himself? And what did he and Brent Seabrook think of the Hawks' decision to demote him?
A frank, tell-it-like-it-is Franson answers those questions and many more.
Q: What has this year been like for you?
A: Well, it went from optimistic to kind of questionable to solid to injury to … what just happened? (Laughs). It's about accepting your situation and finding a way to make the most of it. And that's what the rest of this year has been since I got sent down. Obviously this isn't where I want to be, but the only way to get back to (the NHL) is to improve.
At 30 I'm not old. But a lot of (GMs) and (those) in higher positions are going to start to look at 30 and think that you can't improve or you can't change the way you do things. I changed agencies. I hired a new trainer and started getting to work on that 'eye test' that I didn't seem to be passing for some people.
Q: When you were sent down, did it affect your confidence?
A: Well, it was weird because I was playing good hockey. I didn't see that coming at all. Obviously the year wasn't going the way the Blackhawks wanted. I had only played 20 games at that point.
But there's always that chance when a team's on the (playoff) bubble that they start trying to see their young guys. That's the way everybody kind of does things now -- they want to start looking for next year.
(At that point) I thought I'd get picked up or traded for by somebody that needed a guy. I mean, I've played in the playoffs and have a lot of experience. Right-handed shot and all those things that kind of check boxes. …
Not getting claimed definitely makes you think a little bit. You kind of step back and reassess things and pay attention as to why that happened, and then make your adjustments moving forward to get yourself to get back to where you want to be.
Q: Did you ever hear from Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith when you were placed on waivers?
A: Well, when I got the call the from (Joel Quenneville), Brent was the first person I reached out to. So I talked to him about it a little bit, and it caught him off-guard. I talked to a couple other guys through texting and none of them really understood it. …
It's kind of one of those things that whenever you think about it, you sit there and roll your eyes and shake your head. You're baffled a little bit because I was playing with Duncs, playing over 20 minutes a night and it was going really well. We were starting to put something together.
Then I got injured, came back and all of a sudden the plan changed and things were done. So it's a little frustrating.
Q: Shortly after you and Keith were paired, he raved about how easy it was to play with you. He had to be shocked as well.
A: That was the biggest frustration for me. I kind of buried my head and did the work until I got in the lineup. Then I tried to play as well as I possibly could to start moving up, and I did get the chance to play with Duncan, which was something I didn't necessarily think was going to be an option.
But once it became an option, I wanted to make sure that it didn't change.
I've always kind of prided myself on being a guy that's easy for other guys to play with, and I think the game in an offensive manner without being overly aggressive. I think Dunc thinks the game the same way. He's obviously a little different in his approach. He's an extremely gifted defenseman. …
I wanted to be somebody that played like an experienced defenseman that was easy for him to read off of. He wouldn't have to think while he was playing and we could have that kind of relationship that him and Seabs have when they play together. Anytime you see Seabs go back and play with Dunc it's like they've been doing it for 30 years. Me and Dunc were working toward getting that type of thing going.
I was understanding the reads he makes and what he likes to have his D partner do, and how he likes to play and possess the puck. We were really starting to make strides. Then I got injured and they abandoned that whole process. That was one of the really frustrating parts of this whole season. I think if I didn't get injured we could have really made some headway.
Q: You've scored 13 goals in 45 games with Rockford, a 22-goal pace over a full AHL season, which is a crazy number for a defenseman. But your job obviously is to be able to stop the goal scorers at the NHL level. Are you confident that next season you can go back into that role?
A: Yeah, I don't think it'll be an issue at all. I'm going to be changing everything I do with my new trainer. He's studying my game tape right now to work on biomechanics and tendencies that make me a little less efficient that I should be. … We've done a lot of work that way and it's starting to show at this level.
"I'm starting to play more aggressive in my gaps, I'm starting to skate the puck more, becoming more comfortable in pivoting situations and all those mobility aspects that come with it. After having the summer to go home and work in person with him … I'll be very comfortable going into next year's camp, wherever that is."
Q: I asked Cody if the Blackhawks seemed a bit "clique-ish" this season. Were there not enough "glue guys" like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw on the roster?
A: (He didn't think it seemed "clique-ish" but pointed to the massive roster turnover as being a problem, especially when it came to whom Quenneville and his staff could trust).
"(Coaches) get comfortable playing guys, and when all those faces come in it's different. Look at the guys they spun through that defense corps this year and how many times they put them through different pairings and different situations. It's tough to get comfortable (as a player), and a big part of that is keeping eight defensemen.
"You can look at it and say, yes, that's good competition -- yada, yada, yada. There's another way to look at it and that's if you're one of the six guys in the lineup that night and you're not Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook, you're going out there with a relatively short leash.
"You make a mistake, you might get bumped back to the 5-6 hole; and if you make a mistake the next night you might be out of the lineup. That's not an easy thing to do. A lot of the good players in the league go out there and know if they make a mistake that nothing's really going to change. They're going to have a chance to right that wrong.
When you're not one of those guys, it's definitely a little tougher to not go out there and grip your stick and play extremely safe for fear of coming out of the lineup."
Q: Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs makes me think the Blackhawks are going to have a tough time dealing with Nashville and Winnipeg for the foreseeable future. Agree?
A: I wouldn't say that they're a long ways away. I think next season is going to be very interesting for them because the guys that made their first appearances this year are going to have a year of experience under their belts. They're going to be a little more accustomed to how things are done and a little more ready for what to expect. They'll go into next season with a feeling of having a little longer leash because they've been there. …
(The defensemen) are still very young and there's probably still some growing pains in there. But at least they have -- for the most part -- a season under their belts, which is why they did what they did this year. (The Blackhawks) understood that it's probably going to come with some aches and pains, but it's important to get those guys some experience so that they could be comfortable the next season.
So I think it's going to be an interesting year for them. It also depends what they do over the course of the summer, if they do anything (in free agency). … But I wouldn't write them out by any stretch. I think (Nick) Schmaltz is going to be a great player, (Alex) DeBrincat too. Vinnie (Hinostroza). They've got some great, dynamic pieces up front for sure and some good, young prospects on the back end.
A lot of it just depends on how they continue to develop.
Q: What about the Corey Crawford situation? Have you ever seen a situation where a team doesn't tell you what is going on with one of its major players?
A: Yeah, you know what -- I have actually been part of the two cases that have happened like that. When I was in Buffalo, (Kyle) Opkoso was going through his stuff, we were kind of kept in the dark about it all. I still really don't know what exactly he was dealing with.
It was kind of the same thing. Okie wasn't at practice one day and they said he was at home, and that we were going to answer some questions in the media about it. There's not much to know, not much to say and the rest of the year just kept going that way.
"You can do nothing but hope for the best and hope that he's feeling OK. You try to reach out, but you don't want to bother those guys when they're going through stuff, so it's just kind of one of those things where you want to respect their privacy and hope they're doing well and check in from time to time.
You don't want to poke or pry either, because the last thing they want to do is talk about that because they want to be on the ice.
"This year with Crow going through what he's going through, you can really do nothing but hope he's feeling better and feeling back to normal and good about himself, and confident that he's going to have a good summer.
Q: I know it wouldn't be the Stanley Cup, but what would your thoughts be on winning the Calder Cup?
A: Like you said, it's not the Stanley Cup. But at the same time it's important for these young guys to have these types of experiences because these experiences are going to help them feel more comfortable at the next level.
For myself, it gives me more time to try and work on my game, and try get to that high level and have people see that my play (shows) I don't belong at this level. Going further into the playoffs and winning only ever helps people.
Individuals have success when the team has success. That's the model I've always been preached … and if we can go on and win a Calder Cup, that's only going to help everyone in our room.