Time to Flip the Investment?

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

15 thoughts on “Time to Flip the Investment?”

  1. I’d shop Franzen by the deadline if that came to it. Depending on a handful of other variables (like how well the rest of the forwards are playing), I would even consider doing it for a top-5 draft pick.  The issue there is whether a bottom-feeder would take a guy whose salary exceeds his hit as a deadline buy.  The bottom feeders are generally trading away their talent for picks at that point in the season. It’s not illogical to assume that it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s very likely.

    If I weren’t supremely confident that the pick would be top five or the player coming the other way has similar upside, I’d rather take the gamble that the beast from playoffs long past shows back up for Detroit (in order to grow his stock by a huge margin to trade him in the offseason before the draft.)

  2. I don’t think Franzen is easily worth a lottery pick. I don’t see any team in that position making that trade, regardless. I’d be for it though, if he isn’t producing. His contract could be ugly in a few years if he isn’t producing, even if the cap rises.

  3. I don’t think Franzen is easily worth a lottery pick. I don’t see any team in that position making that trade, regardless. I’d be for it though, if he isn’t producing. His contract could be ugly in a few years if he isn’t producing, even if the cap rises.

  4. I like the Mule, even though the not liking the regular season comments are frustrating I’m glad that his cap hit is still marginally low, he could burst out and give us 60 goals one year and have it all worth it. If he stays healthy then he is a monster in the playoffs even if je is a slouch in the regular season. That’s a tough one, a lottery pick that turned into a #1 overall would be amazing though.

  5. I like the Mule, even though the not liking the regular season comments are frustrating I’m glad that his cap hit is still marginally low, he could burst out and give us 60 goals one year and have it all worth it. If he stays healthy then he is a monster in the playoffs even if je is a slouch in the regular season. That’s a tough one, a lottery pick that turned into a #1 overall would be amazing though.

  6. Franzen is worth a top player or pick right now, but if he is struggling by the deadline he won’t be. The Wings should have packaged him and Hudler and sent them packing to the Wild for Burns and Havlat this summer imo. I love the Mule as much as the next guy (especially with the Mulestache), but he just isn’t consistent and he’s injury prone. Going back to basic stock market lessons, buy low sell high, the Wings need to do that asap.

  7. Everyone keep an eye on Shea Weber and the nashville predators. If nashville isnt in the playoff picture look for them to trade Weber in lieu of going back to arbitration. Dont be surprised if the wings are rumored to be in talks, and dont be surprised if Franzen’s name is mentioned as part of a deal.

  8. Honestly, if we could get an even, horizontal swap, I would be fine with him going.  I love the Mule.  His antics in previous playoffs and that March where he spoiled Mr. Hockey’s birthday by breaking one of his records are memorable to say the least.  But if he can’t perform, he’s just a $4 million deadweight on the team.  He has the talent to be one of the top scorers in the league, he proved that after he signed the extension.  In the words of Drew Sharp (I think), “If someone could convince Franzen the regular season mattered as much as the playoffs, he’d be the best scorer in the league.”  Perhaps a change in scenery would do well for him.  And if we can move laterally to another power forward type, perhaps another one underperforming like Alex Semin,  I would not be disappointed.

    Granted… you really can’t complain about the hometown discount we got with him.  $4 million for possibly the best scorer in the league?  Hell yes.

  9. Don’t be too harsh, guys.  $4 mil is actually a really great rate for a perennial 30 goal scorer.  Look at the other guys making that…guts like Jason Blake, Lucic, Horton, Taguay, Ruutu, Sharp, are all guys that are good for about 30 goals and 60 pts a year.  Now Franzen is good for 30/60, but has the potential for 45/90 if you ask me, and a lot of those other guys don’t.  I think it’s fair to say he’s earning his keep, even with his inconsistent play.

    A top 5 pick is awesome, but can just as easily be bust.  Most teams are dying for a proven 30 goal scorer on their team, and hoping that’s what a top 5 pick will turn into.  HOPING.  And that’s in 5 years.  I’d rather have Franzen now to complement Pav and Hank at the end of their Prime years, then a rookie just coming into his own when they are all nearing retirement.  

    I’m more worried about his being prone to injury than his inconsistent scoring and value at 4mil.

    1. Except he’s only scored over 30 goals *once* and tops out in the high 50s for points. That is not a perennial 30 goal scorer. Find me a perennial 30 goal scorer and I’ll gladly pay him 4 Mil. If Franzen was actually hitting the numbers you’re giving him credit for we wouldn’t have a problem here.

      1. True…BUT if you project out his totals in each of his last 4 years it totals out to 30 over 82 games.  It’s actually pretty remarkable if you do the math:
        07-08 actual = 27 – projected over 82 = 30.75
        08-09 actual = 34 – projected over 82 = 39.27
        09-10 actual = 10 – projected over 82 = 30.37
        10-11 actual = 28 – projected over 82 = 30.21

        So even if you consider his 34 goal season to be the outlier, he’s still a 30 goal man when healthy.  Which is why I’m more worried about his being injury prone, than his consistency.   

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