This is a player I have completely turned around on, and I am admitting it without shame.
At the end of last year, I thought Franson was a dud. A big defensive liability with an offensive spark that was too few and far between. When we first acquired him, Predators fans warned us that he was an "O-Zone only" kind of guy, and we shouldn't expect too much at the other end of the ice. Boy were they right. I saw a guy struggle to clear his own end game after game, and when you combine it with the entitled attitude he seemed to have from Day 1, I was sure the Leafs would drop/trade/cut Franson loose by the summer of 2013.
Turns out I was wrong. While he will never be a Norris candidate, Franson's defensive abilities have rebounded sharply this year. His D-zone awareness is reflective of a 2nd-pairing defenceman - not flawless but not the broken vending machine I was seeing last season. His offence was never a doubt, and therefore his increased minutes & usage have translated accordingly on the scoresheet.
In my mind, the simplest reason for this is confidence. Franson and Ron Wilson did not get along, to the point where I think he had become a bit of a whipping boy, yo-yo'd in and out of quality minutes. With Wilson gone, Franson no longer feels like every game is a tryout. He doesn't feel pressured to play perfectly or risk being banished to the press box. He has carved out a role for himself with his teammates and with this coach that all sides understand and acknowledge. He knows where to put the puck for his defensive partner when he's under pressure, and he knows what speed to send it up the boards for a chip-out from his wingers.
Maybe this is all hooey & hogwash, but the one thing I know is that my opinion of Franson has completely reversed. I no longer want to see him traded out of town for a pick or a prospect. He is a top-4 defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs and I am totally fine with that.